Kathy Gibson reports from AfricaCom in Cape Town – The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) has committed to working with Icasa (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) to lower the cost of connectivity in South Africa.
“The high cost of broadband is detrimental to the economy,” says Dr Siyabongo Cwele, Minister of telecommunications and postal services.
“With the Cost to Communicate programme, DTPS and Icasa will review all regulations that impact on the cost of communication in South Africa.”
Dr Cwele points out that the SA Connect policy aims to connect all South Africans, and the DTPS has conducted a number of pilot projects in this regard.
“But we are facing the global challenge of economic growth, and government needs to partner with the private sector on rolling out broadband infrastructure,” he says.
“We are looking at innovative ways that the private sector can partner with us in fast tracking the rollout of broadband.”
WiFi technology, meanwhile, has emerged as a solution for connecting communities, Dr Cwele says. They can be built using cheap commodity hardware and do not incur additional costs.
“There is a growing interest by municipalities to adopt WiFi to bridge the digital divide,” he says.
Deployment of municipal WiFi is also seen as important for the establishment of smart cities and IoT. “It can also serve as a platform for innovation in terms of revenue generation and transformation.
“The technology can narrow the digital divide and empower communities,” Dr Cwele says.
The DTPS has partnered with eight metros to deploy more WiFi hotspots, he adds. “And we are encouraged that the experience has shown that more than 80% of users are accessing job opportunities and educational content.
“We will invest more in WiFi, and are inviting partners to help spread the technology.”
Technology can serve humanity better by addressing the challenges of unemployment and poverty in Africa, Dr Cwele points out.
“The ability of a country to compete is dependent on how quickly it can harness and exploit technology,” he says.
Africa is still behind the curve, though. The bulk of unconnected people is still in Africa, and this does not look likely to change soon.
However, policies have been put in place to create an enabling environment in South Africa; now business and government need to collaborate on bridging the digital divide, Dr Cwele says.