We’re moving on broadband in difficult circumstances – but we need to be faster

STRATEGIC INTEGRATED PROJECT (SIP) 15

Tshwane

24 April 2014

You will recall that we met as SIP 15 on 15 November last year, and agreed we’d meet again in the first quarter of this year to follow up, especially on the implementation of  South Africa Connect, our national broadband policy and strategy, which we took you through and received your responses on. Well, we haven’t quite made the first quarter deadline, for which we apologise, but we are not far off in meeting today, especially if you consider the many other issues our department has had to address.

On digital migration there is still, regrettably, an impasse, and we are working on certain outstanding issues, that we are keen to conclude as soon as possible. But on the National Integrated ICT Policy Green Paper we have done well. The Green Paper was endorsed by Cabinet on 4 December last year, and we had a National Consultative Conference on it in Johannesburg attended by 536 people – beyond the 400 we targeted. We also completed our  provincial public hearings. In all over 2200 people participated. 

The ICT policy review panel is now working on a Draft White Paper towards the finalisation of a White Paper in the second half of this year, that would provide a framework for new ICT legislation hopefully from early next year.

Cabinet, as you know, adopted SA Connect on 4 December 2013. 

SA Connect provides that “the Department of Communications will coordinate and integrate broadband rollout across the different spheres of government”. And it is towards this end that we meet here today.

The DoC has been consulting within government and the state-owned companies on finalising the Broadband implementation plan based on the broadband policy and strategy. As most of you will know, Strategic Integrated Project (SIP) 15 focuses on “Expanding Access to Communication Technology” and includes representatives of all three spheres of government and the state-owned companies. This will be a crucial structure in the implementation of “SA Connect”. 

Since the adoption of “SA Connect”, the Department of Communications connected connected 788 schools to fast internet through cyber-labs, launched the iKamva e-Skills  Institute and the National Broadband Advisory Council (NBAC). The NBAC comprises local and international technical experts, and representatives of business, trade unions and civil society to advise the Minister on the implementation of “SA Connect”

In fact, almost all our activities, even those envisaged before the adoption of “SA Connect” are being increasingly tweaked or restructured to fit into “SA Connect” and advance its goals. “SA Connect” has now become our Department’s RDP, if you like. Or our own NDP.

We need to move with speed on broadband, but we also have to be sensible and effective. There is considerable uneveness in the delivery of broadband across the country and while we must encourage local initiatives we need to synergise our efforts under SA Connect, our broadband policy and strategy, to ensure maximum benefits from broadband for the country as a whole. 

We have been engaging with the provinces, municipalities, the South African Local Government Association and the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department about this. This synergy, understandably, will take time, but is certainly beginning to happen. Today’s SIP 15 meeting is a further step in that direction.  

But we need to be clear: we are not going to seek to hold anybody up. If they are moving faster than us on broadband, we must let them to do so. But we must do is work with them, and over time ensure that what they do increasingly fits into “SA Connect”. We had exchanges with Gauteng, Western Cape and KZN in this regard. We will work with them on their projects and engage with them on the synergies with SA connect.  

We need more synergy  between the  Department  and the SOCs. Yesterday, we met with ICASA and discussed their role in broadband and their broadband value chain analysis. This was our second meeting with them this year. We also meet the USAASA Board in January to discuss broadband. We explained that to USAASA that with the SOCs, their broadband work has to be more firmly located within SA Connect. Subsequently DoC officials met with USAASA officials twice, including yesterday. I think there is a meeting pending between DoC, USAASA, ICASA and the National Treasury soon to clarify the precise roles of each structure in the roll-out of broadband.

I am very clear: we have to use the relevant legislation, regulations and norms to define the roles of the respective parties. There’s no major issue here. We are all bound by the law. 

We decided last year to release a Spectrum Policy by March or April. For a variety of reasons related to the the adoption of SA Connect we have decided to defer this. But as we committed ourselves to doing this by now, it is important that we give a public explanation for why we haven’t. We should do so before 7 May. 

We have been engaging in an informal, ad hoc way with the private sector on implementing SA Connect. But we need to do this in an organised, structured  way. We need to more actively engage with the mobile operators and other private sector stakeholders in a formal way as soon as possible on the implementation of SA Connect. We need their ideas and their cooperation, and the sooner we reach out to them in an organised way, the better.

A conference of all public and private stakeholders on the faster implementation of SA Connect should be held by July. But to prepare the ground for this we may want to think of setting up preparatory structures made up of departmental, private sector and other stakeholders that would also consider shaping the agenda and programme of the Conference.

As many of you will know, the Broadband Implementation Plan is structured around the four prongs of the digital strategy in the policy: Digital Readiness, Digital Development, Digital Future and Digital Opportunity. The Broadband Steering Committee and five Task Teams consisting of different government stakeholders are seeking to expedite the finalisation of the implementation plan. 

The implementation framework outlines the following projects which have been completed or are underway:

 

  • An overall roadmap, stakeholder plan, technical plan, business case and procurement plan have been worked on. 
  • A Broadband governance structure has been established in consultation with government departments and state agencies. The Broadband Steering Committee (BSC) will provide consistent strategic oversight of the broadband implementation plan development process. The BSC will work closely with the NBAC.
  • An Inter-Governmental Project Team has been established on the rationalisation of the state-owned companies. 
  • Provinces and municipalities have been engaged on their provincial and municipal broadband plans with the aim of aligning them with SA Connect.  
  • User Requirements Specification (URS) for Schools, Health Facilities and Public facilities are being finalised in conjunction with the relevant departments. The URS will be used in the broadband network planning to specify current and future requirements by the various Departments.
  • A process to align the broadband planning process to the budget cycle in a phased approach has been adopted to ensure that a detailed infrastructure gap analysis is conducted before requesting funding from Treasury.
  • A detailed implementation plan for the Digital Development strategy has been developed. Due to the interdependencies between activities in the various prongs of  the SA Connect strategy, work is underway on several projects to remove the bottlenecks. This includes the development of the Rapid Deployment Policy, spectrum policy directions on broadband spectrum and the wholesale open access network approach.

 

There is also work being done to facilitate broadband demand stimulation to increase uptake and usage whilst addressing issues of research and development, innovation and entrepreneurship. This work seeks to ensure that broadband infrastructure is provided to areas where the users are trained to use broadband services and have the end-user devices to access the relevant broadband services.

We have made significant progress since December on broadband, but we still have a long way to go. We need public-private and other partnerships, and with the cooperation of all the stakeholders we’ll get there. We have to.