The state should be taking more aggressive steps to achieve the progressive roll-out of Internet access points to all South Africans.
Speaking on the opening day of the Cellular Backhaul conference at the South African Reserve Bank in Pretoria, lawyer Brendan Hughes argued that there is a constitutional duty on the state to achieve the full and equal enjoyment of all constitutional rights, including the right to receive, impart or access information.
Hughes called for more extensive state support of current projects designed to make internet access points available at several hundred public libraries and post offices throughout the country.
He says: "Constitutional rights of access, whether it be to food, water, healthcare, education or the right to access or impart information are not abstract rights but ones which the state must take reasonable measures within its available means to make practically available to all.
"Within the context of ICT, a good example of this would be state programmes to increase internet access at all public libraries and post offices distributed throughout the country.
"Increased investment into these sorts of initiatives will enhance a person’s ability to educate themselves, find or create employment opportunities and make informed decisions about matters affecting them. Without access to information, people are not empowered to do that."
Delegates were gathered at the Reserve Bank conference venue in Pretoria to discuss ways in which the growing need for data communications could be met by cellular backhaul technologies which are used to transport data traffic between distributed sites and more centralised points of presence.
With the last few years of wireless broadband being largely driven by 3G networks, operators are increasingly using backhaul as a strategic lever to balance user demand and increasing operational expenditures. The conference continues until today (Thursday).
Hughes also called for a move away from conservative paternalism to a more liberal approach in the licensing of electronic communications network services and said that letting the market decide who dies, survives or thrives in internet access industries will be the most efficient way to achieve greater broadband penetration in South Africa and the social and economic benefits that it has been shown to bring.
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is currently engaged in the process of issuing individual electronic communications network service licences but the process has been marred by legal challenges over the right of service providers to provide communications over their own wireless networks rather than being required to lease the networks of existing telecommunications service providers such as Telkom and Neotel.