SA lags on IT literacy, broadband

2014-03-31 14:31 - Duncan Alfreds
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Mobile broadband internet. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)


Cape Town - The rollout of broadband in South Africa has more so do with IT literacy than the cost of data, an industry insider has said.

"I think that the adoption of IT and IT literacy plays a large part in the rollout of broadband, and here South Africa is lagging behind other countries globally," Eckart Zollner, the head of Business Development at the Jasco Group told News24.

People new to the internet are often turned off by data costs as they migrate from feature phones to smartphones and despite the declining cost of data, the commodity remains a challenge, especially as data intensive content becomes more popular.

"The cost of data is still dropping and will be reducing further as more players enter the market and more data applications find acceptance. This does drive broadband rollout to new areas and new consumers to some degree but no solely," said Zollner.

The Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update found that global internet traffic increased by 81% in 2013, making it 18 times the size of the entire internet in 2000.

Unbalanced development

A key driver was video which made up 53% of all web traffic in 2013.

It is key that mobile networks are robust enough to handle the bandwidth demands of video services.

"Rollout of data services and applications such as Video on demand or gaming will have a much larger potential influence on the rollout of broadband," said Zollner.

The department of communications highlighted the unbalanced development of broadband in its 2013 - 2018 Strategic Plan.

"A study commissioned by the department shows that currently the national optic fibre routes are concentrated in the so called 'golden triangle', which comprises Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Furthermore, there are various planned optic fibre rollout initiatives currently being deployed in each of these large metros," says the document.

However, the department, then led by Dina Pule, said that the current state of broadband deployment was of concern.

"Icasa has conducted a study to determine the 'Under-serviced Areas', using a criteria developed specifically for this function. The study identified a number of under-serviced areas throughout the country, and these are areas where national government intervention is critical," the strategy adds.


Zollner agrees that government intervention in mobile broadband is key to development and reaching the National Development Plan target of 100% coverage by 2020.

"Government through the regulator should provide regulation that requires operators to cover underserviced areas in return for access to frequency spectrum. This was successfully practised with the rollout of voice services in the mid-nineties and should be repeated for data services."

However, the details of the plan and how the organisation will look are of concern.

"The draft broadband policy as published on October 25 by the department of communications does give us pause and does raise some questions given its insistence on a wholesale open access entity which is unnamed, unfunded, unclear," Peter Lyons, director of Public Policy Africa Middle East at the GSM Association told News24.

He said that while his organisation supported the ideology expressed in the Draft National Broadband policy, he was cautious about direct government involvement in the sector because of the possibility of corruption.

"We prefer that these kinds of arrangements when it comes to infrastructure sharing or wholesale open access, that they're commercially led because I think the incentive for governments to directly participate in these situations can sometimes leave the door open to these kinds of issues."

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