SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE MINISTER OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS AND POSTAL SERVICES, DR. SIYABONGA CWELE, MP
ON THE OCCASION OF THE FTTX COUNCIL AFRICA CONFERENCE IN CAPE TOWN
04 October 2017
Honourable Members of Parliament from local and abroad,
President of FTTX Africa, Mr Andile Ngcaba,
CEO of FTTH (South Africa), Ms Juanita Clark,
Leadership of FTTH and its sister organisations,
Senior government officials,
Captains of the industry,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the South African Government, I wish to express my sincere thanks for inviting me to address the FTTH Council Africa Conference 2017. We recognise the sterling work done so far by the Council under the stewardship of Richard Came and in the same breath congratulate Andile Ngcaba as the newly elected President of FTTH Council Africa. I must reiterate our Government’s commitment to forging a working relationship with this industry in general, and this forum in particular.
As Government, we are encouraged by the unwavering commitment of the Council to stimulating growth in fibre activities through sharing knowledge on this subject with policymakers, network operators and other key stakeholders. We applaud you and your team on hosting this conference and shouldering the responsibility of drawing more than 600 delegates from over 40 countries across the global community.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our National Development Plan aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. It envisages by 2030, ICT will underpin the development of a dynamic Information Society and Knowledge Economy that is more inclussive and prosperous. A seamless information infrastructure that will meet the needs of citizens, business and the public sector, providing access to the wide range of services required for effective economic and social participation – at a cost and quality at least equal to South African’s competitors. It see ICT infrastructure as an important backbone to a modern economy. It call upon us to;
• Ensure the efficient use of spectrum,
• To examine the ability of the market to sustain infrastructure competition and whether the benefits outweigh the duplication of facilities in the resource-constrained environment;
• To identify alternatives to infrastructure competition through structural separation of the backbone from the services offered by historical incumbents to create a common carrier access by service competitors;
• To consider inefficiencies of infrastructure duplication and encourage or prescribe sharing and reduction of expensive trenching by creating common rights of ways for competing operators to lay dedicated lines; and
• To implement comprehensive policy review, including the institutional arrangements based on the needs of the sector.
What have we achieved thus far in relation to policy implementation?
In 2013 we published South Africa Connect, our broadband policy and its implementation plan. We have begun with the implementation of the pilot project to connect government office in eight rural districts. This will bring ICT infrastructure in these underserved areas and stimulate uptake by local business and communities. We are planning a Public-Private Partnership to connect the rest of the country as soon as we complete the feasibility study, financial modelling and sustainability of the project. We hope to call for the Request for Proposal for this megaproject by the end of the current financial year.
In September 2016 we published the new National Integrated ICT White Paper. We are currently finalising its Implementation Plan after consultations with all stakeholders. Some of the key elements of this policy are the Open Access Networks and the Rapid Deployment Policy to facilitate infrastructure investment. These policies aim to significantly reduce the costs of deploying infrastructure as well as reducing the barriers to entry. In this regard, we have created three workstreams that meet regularly to prepare for the speedy implementation of the Rapid Deployment Policy namely;
• The institutional arrangements team led by the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services
• The regulatory environment team, led by Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, and
• The municipal facilitation coordination team, led by South African Local Government Association.
Today, the FTTX Council has never been more relevant in South Africa and our continent. Fibre is the backbone of broadband and the better broadband boosts the economy. Fibre backhaul is required for the efficient deployment of other technologies such as satellite and mobile communication infrastructure. It is also an affordable and reliable last mile technology that brings about best experience by consumers and businesses in the era of the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence. The information society and knowledge economy that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution requires strong and resilient communications network infrastructure epitomised by FTTH/B or FTTX. It is core to smart cities and big data transmission. Experts inform us that the world has created more data in the last two years than in its entire history. The digital economy requires smart platform in the form of smart energy, mobility, government, and smart living. It is these kinds of statistics that drives the deployment of high speed broadband. The demand is driven by consumer preferences, business adopting digital business processes and governments accelerating e-government and national digital strategies.
We come from the eras of steam engines, electricity and IT as key drivers of development. Most of our major towns arose out of the first and second industrial revolutions. We entered the third which started about two decades ago. Today we have entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will is characterised by the current platforms and will help us leapfrog to higher levels of socio-economic development and be globally competitive. We may not achieve our Sustainable Development Goals if we don’t embrace broadband and digitisation. The experts also say today it is no longer the rail/ road or energy networks that will lead to development, but it is the ultra-high speed broadband infrastructure that will become a determining factor in ensuring the economic future of the cities and regions.
In the last few years we have seen a significant growth in fibre deployment across Sub-Saharan Africa. We have seen projects announced from every corner of Africa. I am informed that last year South Africa made it into the global rankings list – a metric used to measure global rankings. However, we must not be complacent because of a reasonable national average in a country coming from divisions and inequalities of the past. We must break the fibre maturity of 20% household penetration in all our municipality to avoid a new digital divide. We must set our bar high and aspire to be quickly on par with such countries such United Arab Emirates, Mauritius, South Korea and the EU. We must expand fibre in cities, villages and rural farming areas. We must find smart ways of deploying affordable broadband for all our citizens.
I would like to congratulate the Council on changing of its name – from FTTH to FTTX. This is appropriate as more telecommunications mediums rely on fibre optic infrastructure. This is even more critical as the world is preparing for 5G. Other technologies such as WiFi is reliant on fibre optic infrastructure to ensure decent user experience – and even satellite relies on fibre optic backhaul. This statement is also true for Internet of Things, cloud computing and big data. As these technologies rely on high speed bandwidth, we have to ensure that we do what we can to facilitate the efficient deployment thereof.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The inclusive economic growth and job creation, particularly for our youth, remain key priorities for our government. Economists believe that broadband infrastructure promotes employment and leads to the creation of new jobs, and so have a net positive effect in the long term for all those that are part of the digital society. Moreover, broadband creates jobs through the actual building of digital infrastructure since workers must be hired to lay or install fibre optic 'pipes', which we know is not as simple as the digging of a trench. This industry has contributed to the development of thousands of jobs and have trained thousands of technicians, project managers, civil construction jobs, network architects and maintenance managers.
Just in the last 6 months of 2016, four new training schools were launched in South Africa to keep up with demand for skills development. I am told that the number of jobs that can be created in the current environment is in the region of 10 000. I am further led to believe that the skills shortage is hindering faster deployment of infrastructure. We must do all that we can to overcome this. The DTPS acknowledges and is enthusiastic about the potential contribution that the fibre sector can make to economy growth and employment.
Let me take this opportunity to invite you all to join us in our flagship project to connect 22 million South Africans who are currently offline. The project is facilitated by the World Economic Forum under the leadership of my department on behalf of our government. We have both international and national partners who contribute in the following working groups;
• Innovative infrastructure deployment
• Skills development and internet uptake
• Affordable devices and services, and
• Relevant content development working groups.
We are proud to announce that one of our partners, MTN, has seconded an experienced project manager, who will soon begin work in our office and drive implementation of various projects. Your valued contribution in the success of this project will be appreciated as we aim to conclude this enormous task by 2020. Smart partnerships are key to our common destiny.
For us to further boost the uptake of broadband, we must focus on building confidence in the safe use of the internet by creating a cyber-astute digital citizens.
This Conference takes place in October, which we celebrate as the cybersecurity month. One of the mandates of the Department and the Cybersecurity Hub, as detailed in the National Cybersecurity Policy Framework, is to understand the state of cybersecurity readiness in the country.
To date, there is little reliable data available on the state of readiness of South African organizations, public and private, relating to Cybersecurity readiness. While some studies have been conducted, much of the evidence is anecdotal.
In light of this, the Department via its Cybersecurity Hub has completed a nation-wide survey that seeks to gather information on strategic initiatives relating to Cybersecurity readiness in South African organizations. We believe that meaningful interactions can be undertaken based on the data we have collected. The data is currently being analysed, and the report will be released in the coming months.
The Cybersecurity Hub is also piloting a business intelligence initiative which seeks to analyse the types of threats and vulnerabilities facing organizations and to provide some big data analytic capacity in countering these threats.
We have also developed a national awareness portal which will run awareness campaigns which we hope will build confidence in citizens and their ability to transact and interact safely in cyberspace.
Let me conclude by reminding you that October is OR Tambo month, a national hero we are celebrating a centenary birthday this year. OR Tambo was a global leader and a skilful mathematics and science teacher. These are the basic skills that we require to drive the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Let us honour the legacy of OR Tambo by driving a massive e-skill revolution for all our citizen - from entry to high end skills, to enable them to fully exploit the digital or internet economy.
Let me also remind you that any digital economy that is not based on a resilient infrastructure such a fibre is just a bubble that will burst on our faces. We must build resilient broadband for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and 5G networks.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to engage with you and look forward to participating in a constructive and vibrant discussion on how best to stimulate growth in fibre activities through sharing knowledge with policymakers and potential network operators.
Good luck with your deliberations and thank you.