South African telcos ponder profit vs need conundrum
Telecoms leaders argue poverty alleviation and increasing rural connection should not be undermined by a focus on profits alone.
It is time to rethink how one assesses business success when connecting rural or marginalised communities to an increasingly digital economy.
This was one of the discussion points raised at the South African Telecommunications and Applications Conference (SATNAC) 2021 hosted recently in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Speaking at the conference, Executive Director of TCS South Africa, Langa Dube, said it was time for the ICT sector to re-evaluate its role in poverty reduction and digital inclusion.
“We need to think about introducing new KPIs to determine if we are winning the journey of social inclusion. The social innovation and impact part of how we do business, needs to be measured in a different way.”
Dube argued, “In many situations the business case might never make sense, but we have to connect people wherever they are so as to alleviate poverty and introduce a digital culture in South Africa.”
Dangers of the digital divide
According to the latest ICASA State of ICT Report a little over two million South African homes have fixed broadband access, and of these only 660 000 homes have a fibre connection.
South Africa’s Minister of Communications, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said the government is reviewing its plans to ensure that all South Africans have access to connectivity at their homes by 2024.
This means approximately 16 million homes still require direct access.
“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,” said the Minister. “It’s not only about giving my mother who is a woman in a rural village, elderly, fibre or Wi-Fi in the house, it is also about making sure that she's able to use that fibre. So how do we make sure that we extend the digital skills? That's where the ICT companies come in.”
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 added that creating the capacity to deliver increased connectivity will require the acceleration of spectrum to accommodate increased 5G capabilities.