The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services hopes to see broadband rollout and lower costs of communications this year.

Minister Siyabonga Cwele, speaking in the State of the Nation Address (Sona) debate in parliament, points out that the National Development Plan (NDP) proposes three phased implementation of priorities for the ICT sector.

“In the short term, the NDP calls for an urgent need to review policy to improve access through competition in services, fast-tracking of local loop unbundling; urgent availability of spectrum for next-generation services; provide for low-cost high-speed internet bandwidth,” he says.

“By 2020 it calls for universal broadband penetration at minimum speeds of 2 mbps. Post 2020 it calls for multi-stakeholder collaboration in innovation, local content, multimedia as well as in software and applications development.”

The CSIR reports that in the last three years the ICT industry has invested R78-billion in infrastructure, and Cwele says the country has already started to see benefits of this accelerated investment, where the Network Readiness Index and usage improved.

“This and other measures has helped to steadily push up the WEF Global Competitive Index from 56 in 2014 to 47 in 2016 out of 140 participating countries.”

In September 2016, ANC government adopted the Integrated ICT White Paper, and Cwele says this policy lever is being used to deconcentrate the industry, enabling open access networks and spectrum, as a strategic levers to induce transformation and lower barriers to entry.

In October 2016, our ICT Sector Council finalised new ICT Sector Codes, which Cwele says are now operational.

“These sector codes move beyond share ownership and management control to prioritise other areas such as enterprise development, preferential procurement as well as skills development.”

In terms of broadband rollout, Cwele says goverment has decided to use the capacity of state-owned companies to implement it in line with the provisions of the law.

“The aim is to connect government offices to expedite delivery of services to our citizens. It also aims to bring these services closer to our communities so that they can be exploited by local business and citizens.”

With regard to the bigger Phase II broadband rollout to the rest of the country, he says that later this year the department aims to raise funds through partnership with the private sector as part of its InvestSA 40 priority projects.

Cwele says the department is also working to reduce the cost of communication.

“In 2016, I issued a policy directive mandating ICASA to conduct an inquiry to see if there is effective competition in the broadband market segments and recommend corrective remedies or regulation to bring price down. The regulator has put a deadline of April 2017 to do this work. We hope the public will give their valuable inputs in this process.

“The real fall of data costs will be realised when more player and SMMEs are competing in giving services to the people as advocated by the new policy,” he adds.

In addition, the department has been getting invoved in assisting metros to expand the provision of fee WiFi, Cwele says.