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SA looks to connect all citizens by 2024

Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.
Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.

South Africa’s Minister of Communications, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, says the country’s government is reviewing its plans to ensure that all South Africans have access to connectivity at their home by 2024.

Speaking at the annual Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference (SATNAC), Minister Ntshavheni said the European Union (EU) had committed itself to 1 terabyte to the home by 2025, and challenged the ICT sector to commit to similar targets for the country.

“The challenge will be what South Africa should commit to given the development disparities that are not only a result of class differences but the geolocation of the person – the urban/rural divide” she said.

“It's not just about getting the services out there. Access to connectivity has become a basic need. It is as much a basic need as access to water and access to electricity - because it determines access to education, access to health, access to work, which are fundamental for our survival”.

The focus of SATNAC 2021 is on accelerating digitalisation and innovations.

The ICT and telecommunications industries have urged the South African government to focus on connectivity and spectrum regulation in its pursuit of full digital transformation.

In October at the Huawei e-Government Summit, delegates and industry leaders said the government must continue to drive technology into the public sector as part of its digital economy strategy.

Huawei Director of Public Sector Qi Meng said: “Innovative technologies are increasingly being used in more industries and diversified ecosystems are driving more dynamic markets across the world. As a result, South Africa needs sustainable infrastructure development to further drive the value of digital technologies in stimulating the development of the local digital economy.”

In the beginning of the year, ITWeb interviewed World Wide Web Foundation’s chief web advocate, Nnenna Nwakanma and she said: “When people talk about connectivity, we want to go further and talk about meaningful connectivity. People need to understand that it is not just enough to go to a cyber café to check e-mails or use a free Facebook app that comes with your mobile phone but does not allow you to do many things…It’s not enough just to be connected. Just logging in for 15 minutes every other week or once a month – that is not enough.”

Impact in society

At SATNAC 2021, Telkom Group CEO, Sipho Maseko added: “Big data, analytics, machine learning and AI can all assist business and world leaders to avoid making errors of calculation and prediction or understanding key trends. All of these things are good, and they helpful only if they can have impact in society.”

Maseko said this will require long term strategies in which all stakeholders are aligned on the outcomes. “Alignment does not mean endorsement, but alignment actually means that all of us realise what needs to be achieved. We may have fundamental problems here and there, but actually we accept the outcome that we want to achieve needs to be realised.”

Minister Ntshavheni called for research and development projects to be expedited and taken to market without delay. She told conference delegates that the digital divide did not only exist in society but in government itself.

“The bulk of government administration and services yet to be digitised, we are confronted by the challenge of how do we leapfrog public service into the future into new ways of working”

She said this will require re-skilling public servants, and working closely with local and global stakeholders in the sector.

Ntshavheni said creating the capacity to deliver increased connectivity will require the acceleration of spectrum to accommodate increased 5G capabilities.

She said government is “doggedly pursuing digital migration and we have already switched off all analogue SABC sits in the Free State”. The Northern Cape will have its last site switched off within the next week.

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