Cwele asks parliament for $15m for telecoms ministry

South Africa’s newly appointed minister of telecommunications and postal services, Dr Siyabonga Cwele, has asked the government for ZAR159 billion (US$14.9 billion) for his department this year, to focus on infrastructure rollout, improving the regulatory environment and forging ahead with digital migration.

HumanIPO reported Cwele was named minister of the newly created Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services in May, moving from his long-standing role as minister for state security.

Addressing parliament on the occasion of the Budget Vote of the Department of Communications, Cwele urged ZAR159 billion (US$14.9 billion) to be signed off for his department, pledging “a more focused attention on infrastructure roll-out, the creation and acceleration of the expansion of e-government services, the coordination and streamlining of public entities in the sector as a well as a reconfigured department which will ensure policy and regulatory certainty” within the ICT sector.

In particular, Cwele said South Africa must move away from reliance on mobile internet connectivity, and aim to provide fibre to the home (FTTH), saying the quick deployment fixed line fibre is key to creating an internationally competitive economy, improving productivity and positively impacting economic and social development.

“Currently, the backbone of broadband infrastructure, which is fixed line fibre, now reaches 170,000 kilometres, linking cities and small towns. We will focus on closing infrastructure gaps with respect to the urban and rural divide, and access networks which will facilitate fibre to the home,” Cwele said.

“We must move away from over-reliance on mobile broadband as it will not be sufficient for ensuring effective e-service delivery in schools, health facilities and other government institutions.

“Our National Broadband Policy, SA Connect, places the department in a position to coordinate and support the roll-out of broadband infrastructure and services across the country, to achieve 100% broadband penetration by 2020.”

The minister said ZAR20 million (US$1.87 million) has been allocated this financial year for the first phase of the broadband plan, with a business plan set to be put in place for the connecting of 580 clinics, 4,444 schools, 182 police stations, and 572 other government offices in the medium term.

Cwele said his department will engage with industry players to avoid public and private infrastructure duplication, and will direct the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to develop regulations for infrastructure and facility sharing.

According to Cwele, the government will focus on creating a policy and regulatory environment “conducive to the entrance and sustainability of new players to the market”, as well as making communications affordable for all South Africans.

In this vein, the minister outlined four focal elements set to shape cost to communicate-based policy this year.  ICASA is to formulate regulations for broadband pricing based on a recently concluded value-chain study, regulations on pricing transparency, as well as regulations regarding how broadcasters will access premium content for their services; while the department is to conduct a national roaming survey to understand cost implications and factors hindering new entrants and small operators.

Turning to digital migration for which the minister has earmarked ZAR2.97 billion (US$278.6 million), Cwele said with the June 2015 deadline approaching, the government will plough ahead with the digital switch on, with a switch on date to be decided within three months.

“There is no doubt that our digital migration process has faced many challenges. The June 2015 deadline looms before us and we dare not let our people down. I have taken the decision to move forward with the Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) programme,” Cwele said.

“By the end of the this month, the final BDM policy, which had been subject to public consultation, will be gazetted. Within three months we will designate the date of the start of the Digital Switch On,” the minister said.

“This designation will allow the industry, manufacturers and tv-owning households to prepare accordingly in order to purchase and install Set-Top Boxes that will make the digital switchover possible. The benefits of this will include facilitating the release of spectrum, increasing the number of television channels available and stimulating local production.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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