Government and telecommunication companies on broadband connectivity for schools

Telecommunications and Postal Services

12 September 2014
Chairperson: Ms N Gina (ANC) and Ms M Kubayi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Joint Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services and the Department of Basic Education met to discuss the issue of Broadband connectivity in schools using Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and the role which it could play in the educational and socio-economic development of society. The purpose of delivering Broadband connectivity in schools was basically to ensure that ICT was used to enhance learning and teaching.                 

Different service providers and stakeholders made presentations on their roles in connecting schools to Broadband, the challenges they faced and their future plans. The Committee was provided with detailed information on the internet access situation by Neotel, the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA), Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). In addition, Telkom, Sentech, the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and the Departments of Basic Education (DBE) and Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) also provided input on the number of schools that had been connected throughout the country.
The service providers stressed that the issue of inadequate funding needed to be addressed, to enable more schools and hospitals to be connected and provided with technological equipment such as tablets, laptops, desktop computers and printers. They highlighted several challenges, such as local government delays in granting approvals, inadequate use of equipment that had already been provided, theft of equipment and the high cost of providing security.

Members’ main concerns centred on the lack of coordination among all the service providers, as well as between the two government departments, and urged that this fragmentation needed to be addressed with urgency. They also expressed disappointment that the service providers seemed to paying less attention to rural areas, especially to schools that were located on the periphery. Many of them called on the service providers to provide details of the names and location of the schools that had been connected, so they could be inspected during the Committee’s oversight visits. They also suggested that the departments should monitor and evaluate these schools, to measure the sustainability of the project. There should be an emphasis on the training of teachers on how to use the technological equipment effectively, to ensure an improvement in the quality of education in the country.                                                    

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairpersons extended a welcome to everyone at the meeting, and mentioned that there had been an apology from the Minister of Basic Education, Ms Angie Motsekga, the Deputy Minister, Mr Enver Surty, and the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Mr Siyabonga Cwele. Ms A Lovemore (DA) and Ms H Boshoff (DA) had also submitted their written apologies.
The purpose of the meeting was to hear from different telecommunication companies on their roles in the field of e-education in South Africa. This was against the background of the global recognition that information and communication technology (ICT) could help to improve efficiencies in commerce, government, social interaction and education. It was important for both Departments to ensure that the gadgets that were provided in schools were used effectively, to improve the quality of education in the country.

The purpose of the meeting was also to ascertain whether the telecommunication companies fulfilled their mandate of ensuring that all schools had key elements in place to access the ICT infrastructure, connectivity, improving educator ICT competencies and providing digital content. The presenters were urged to give the Committee Members accurate information about the number of schools that had been provided with digital content, as this would give the Committee a clear indication of what still needed to be done.

Department Telecommunications and Postal Services
Prof Hlengiwe Buhle, Deputy Minister of the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS), introduced her delegation, and said that the Department had just been established. Its operation was informed by the Electronic Communications Act of 2005, as amended. One of the objectives of the Act was to promote the universal access of electronic communication network services and connectivity for all. It was also important to take cognisance of Section 73 of the Constitution, which provided that internet services in public and independent schools must be provided at a minimum discounted rate of 60% of the total charge levied by the licensee. The Department was looking forward to hearing from the network providers at the meeting, especially the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), on their roles, as governments all over the world could leverage only through policy interventions and a regulatory framework.

Prof Buhle said the DBE was called upon to ensure that there was coordination between the two departments in projects which provided schools with connectivity. The partnership between the two departments would also make it clear that there was a need to integrate policies for the purpose of economic inclusion. The partnership with other network providers should not be seen as a corporate social responsibility, but broader than this. The meeting also provided an opportunity for the Department to hear from the DBE about the potential role of ICT in socio-economic development, and how this could enhance the quality of education in the country.

Mr Tinyiko Ngobeni, Deputy Director-General (DDG), ICT Infrastructure Support, DTPS, indicated that the role of the Department was simply to connect the communities and schools to Broadband. The focus was on e-connectivity at schools and hospitals. It was also important to provide learners with adequate training on the use of the devices so that they could be used effectively to improve the quality of education in the country. The vision was for all learners to have access to tablets and modern devices, and the introduction of portable trolleys made it easier for all students to have access and exposure on ways to operate the devices. The Department had also explored ways for students to save the prescribed textbooks and contents of the curriculum, so as to be able to access them without having to constantly go to the internet. The Department, together with ICASA, also needed to do the monitoring of a universal service rollout to the schools and hospitals that were connected to Broadband, in order to ensure that they were operational and used effectively and responsibly.

Some of the challenges that affected the rollout of services included the inadequate infrastructure to build laboratories, due to lack of funding, while there was also a lack of coordination between all stakeholders in terms of the vision to empower and enhance the quality of education in the country. The issue of security had also to be taken into consideration, as some schools and hospitals sometimes experienced burglaries and devices going missing. The under-utilisation of devices was also a problem that needed to be addressed, as some of the teachers were not given adequate training.

Department of Basic Education
Mr Phil Mnisi, Director, Curriculum Innovation for DBE, introduced his delegation and indicated that the purpose of the presentation was to show the progress the DBE and the DTPS had made on Broadband connectivity in schools. On 26 March 2012, the DBE, the provincial Departments of Education, the Department of Communication (DoC) and Telkom had signed a Master Services Agreement to provide connectivity to schools in the Proof of Concept (POC) districts, and had selected Dinaledi Schools. The funding for this project had been secured from the 2010 FIFA World Cup legacy project by the DoC, for the implementation of Phase 2 of the connectivity plan for schools.
The project had seen 1 650 POC schools, including 125 Dinaledi schools, connected. 1 244 POC schools (excluding Gauteng, Western Cape and Dinaledi schools) out 1 250 had been earmarked for EUDs, were in possession of their EUDs. An audit of the project had been conducted and a report compiled and forwarded to Telkom and the DTPS.
In 2013/14 the DBE had established the Vodacom Foundation Partnership, and 31 teachers’ centres had been connected and resourced. This was in addition to the nine ICT resource centres in the POC districts. In 2014/15, 20 more teachers’ centres were expected to be connected and resourced.

Mr Mnisi said the task teams to action the Broadband policy had been constituted under the leadership of the DTPS, and provincial Broadband consultative meetings had taken place with all provinces, except Mpumulanga, which was scheduled for 12 September 2014, and the DBE had been actively involved in oversight visits. The 2014/16 business case, which included the connectivity of about 4 444 schools located in a 20km radius of the 698 National Health Insurance (NHI) pilot districts, had been submitted to National Treasury (NT) by the DTPS. The DBE had already prepared and submitted to the DTPS both the user requirements for the schools to be connected, and a list of the schools concerned. The provincial Broadband consultative meeting had revealed that provinces were at different phases of implementing the Broadband policy. Provinces such as a Gauteng and Western Cape were at an advanced stage of implementation, so schools from these provinces, located within a 20km radius of NHI districts, had not been included in the initial business case (2014/2016) submitted to NT in July 2014.

In 2013/14, the DBE had submitted a list of about 3 200 schools to the DTPS to be located through the Universal Licence Obligation imposed to the Licencees (Network Operators) by ICASA. Due to the outdated status of the Universal Service and Access Licence Obligations, ICASA had amended the Act which had been published for public comment late last year, and this process had delayed the connectivity of the earmarked schools. Vodacom was reported to have gone ahead and connected about 333 schools, but only 60 of them had been connected as per the specifications submitted to ICASA by the DBE. The DBE had provided ICASA with ICT for special schools, and their list of about 400 special schools. 

Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA)
Ms Miki Ndhlovu, Councillor, ICASA, introduced her delegation and indicated that ICASA was mandated by Electronic Communications Act No.36 of 2005 to promote the universal provision of electronic communications networks and electronic services and connectivity for all. The Act also promoted the empowerment of historically disadvantaged persons, with particular attention to the needs of women, opportunities for youth and challenges for people with disabilities. The ICASA process included licensing entities to provide electronic communication services and in so doing, imposing terms and conditions in return for the granting of the licence. These terms and conditions would include universal access and service obligations, Broadband connectivity to communities, schools, public institutions and underserved areas. There was also a need to expand the reach of services, especially network services like infrastructure.

Four operators had had their schools connectivity obligations finalised. Cell C, Vodacom, MTN, Neotel Sentech and WBS would be finalised in the current financial year. The commencement date for the implementation was 1 April 2014, and operators were required to complete implementation within five years. Failure to complete within five years carried a hefty penalty. Cell C, Vodacom and MTN had total combined schools of 4 500 -- each operator had 1 500 schools -- and Neotel had a total of 750 schools. It was important to note these figures were inclusive of institutions of people with disabilities.
The Universal Service Obligation (USO) prioritised on providing schools deemed not to be in a position to afford internet access in the commercial market, and where access was mainly for the purpose of teaching and learning. Schools connectivity was also important to increase knowledge base accessibility to wider resources within the learning environment, and also to widen the scope of imagination of learners by interaction with the wider population by way of communication via social platforms, e-mails and so forth.

Ms Ndhlovu emphasised that each school would be provided with 25 computers for learners -- tablets, PADs, desktops or laptops, based on what the operators sourced -- and one printer. There would also be one computer for the educator and one computer for administrative purposes. All computers would be connected on a LAN within the school and all computers would have access to the internet. The laptops would be housed in trolleys to allow mobility to other classes. All LANs within the schools would be connected to the DBE portal for content access.
The computers would be specific to the needs of the students, hence the computers would be adaptable to suit the disability, i.e. brail keys for the blind students, printers that could print in brail, and special keypads. Currently, each operator had been allocated a total of approximately 1 100 schools to connect. Each province had a designated project coordinator to work with operators from the DBE, and some operators had commenced implementation by 1 September 2014. On average, each operator would be spending between R150 000 and R180 000 per school and by the end of April 2015, ICASA would be in position to share the total number of schools connected.

Ms Ndhlovu stated that future activities included working with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) in order to establish their specific requirements for FET colleges, and this process was likely to be finalised by December 2014. In order to have the remainder of the schools in the country connected, ICASA would be imposing obligations on the licence holders to increase the number of schools from 5 250 currently. There were approximately 400 operators in the market on which ICASA can impose obligations. There were approximately 26 000 public schools in the country, so a remainder of 20 750 needed to be provided with the same facilities.

Mr Thabo Mongake, Chairperson, Sentech, introduced his delegation and said that the vision of Sentech was to be a world-class provider of sustainable communications platform services in South Africa and the rest of the African continent. The mission of Sentech was basically to provide open access and interoperable communications platform services that would enable affordable universal access to digital content services, in the context of South Africa’s socio-political imperatives as a developmental state.

The 2014/15 business strategy was to focus on Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) wireless service, specifically focusing on enabling Broadband connectivity to key government and public entities such as the DBE (KZN and Free State) and theUniversal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) for the ICT hubs. The sustainability of VSAT service remained precarious. Going into the 2014/17 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), Sentech planned to focus the VSAT service on supporting government-led ICT initiatives, in particular the rollout of end-to-end communications network services to rural schools and community telecentres, in partnership with USAASA. Sentech would also look at alternative and more affordable satellite providers for this product, to ensure that VSAT was affordable to customers and could complete in a tough market place.

Mr Mongake said 62 USAASA institutions throughout the country had been successfully rolled out in all nine provinces since the inception of the project. 116 DoE schools had been successfully rolled out in the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal since the inception of the project. Sentech was proud that 58 corporate social investment (CSI) schools had been successfully rolled out throughout the country, and there were already plans in place to increase this number to 100. There were 135 schools that had been connected in the current financial year, and the plan was to increase the number to 270 in the 2016/17 financial year. This would be done in conjunction with the DBE. Sentech was planning to connect about 14 schools a year, and the majority of those schools would be in rural areas.
In terms of the CSI, the strategy of Sentech was guided by promoting a people-centred, sustainable development approach through the ICT interventions. Sentech was obligated to provide computers, laptops, tablets and internet access to schools and hospitals, and this contract was for five years. Sentech also provided assistance to the local ICT companies playing their role in connecting schools, and this also generated income for the small businesses.

Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA)
Ms Makhotso Moiloa, Executive Manager, Performance Management, USAASA, introduced her delegations and said the strategic objective of USAASA was to provide a universal service to the people of the country, especially those located in rural areas. USAASA had been established according to the Electronic Communications Act, 2005 and its status as a public body was affirmed through the Scheduled 3A of the Public Finance Management Act, No 1 of 1999. USAASA’s values brought considerable experience to the fore, which it made available to its partners in both industry and the public sector. USAASA also provided ICT services to public and private schools, hospitals, and FET colleges. It was important to look at the issue of connecting schools holistically, as all telecommunication companies were obligated by the National Development Plan (NDP) to use communication, technology and information to empower the people of the country, especially those under-serviced areas located in the periphery.

Ms Moiloa said USAASA provided under-serviced schools with partial subsidies and grants in order to provide them with ICT services. There were already schools in Gauteng that were provided with wi-fi connections for learners to connect to the internet -- even those with smartphones or personal laptops. There had also been the introduction of the trolley model of laptops, to allow mobility to other classes.
Since 2010, USAASA had spent around R26 million on schools connectivity, focusing on Limpopo, Northern Cape, Western Cape, Free State and Eastern Cape, and 400 smart devices had been given to different schools. Teachers also needed to be trained on how to use the smart devices, in order to effectively improve the learning experience of the students. In the current financial year, connectivity projects would be completed at 15 schools in the Northern Cape and North West Province.

State Information Technology Agency (SITA)
Mr Pandelani Monyai, Chief Technology Officer, SITA, introduced his delegations and stated that according to the SITA Act No.38 of 1998, its mandate was to improve service delivery to the public through the provision of information technology, information systems and related services in a maintained information system security environment, to departments and public bodies, promoting efficiency through the use of information technology.
SITA’s successes included securing the hosting of government systems to ensure transactions on time, and the processing of 562 000 Senior Certificates annually. 2 000 young South Africans had benefited from SITA’s learnerships, internships and bursaries. SITA was also proud to have completed 15 fully-equipped ICT laboratories in schools, primarily in rural and peri-urban areas. Techno-Girl had assisted 8 722 girls in job shadowing, and 283 were currently studying at higher education institutions, with 289 already employed.

Mr Monyai said the DBE ICT Capability was outsourced to SITA and used the full SITA service portfolio including:
- The DBE application development, maintenance and support;
- Secure printing of exam papers and certificates;
- Secure hosting of the DBE application portfolio;
- Provisioning, maintenance and support of secure network connectivity to DBE national and provincial offices;
Provisioning of LAN and desktop support services to all DBE national and provincial offices;
- Security services; and
- Procurement services.
The network design for interconnectivity focused on providing coverage to all DBE national and provincial offices, access to all centrally hosted DBE applications, and fully managed network services -- including secure data and internet connectivity, telephony and video conferencing. There was also major emphasis on security services, especially protection against unauthorised access to DBE applications and data, and ensuring that there was age appropriate access to the internet by introducing content filtering, content blocking and safe search. In order to ensure that there was service sustainability, services and products to DBE were sustained and managed through service level agreements (SLAs). Managed product development covered the full product development life cycle and an inclusive end-to-end SITA ICT service capability, especially in the areas of hosting, printing, connectivity and security.

Mr Monyai said the value added procurement was achieved through the procurement of goods and services at a lower cost than any single department could on its own, within similar time frames. The delivery of outcomes was through a managed, efficient and service-oriented procurement process. The DBE ICT Product and Service portfolio was wholly serviced by SITA, and there was a continuous exploration of opportunities to serve the Department better and, more importantly, to improve the quality of education in the country, especially in the field of science and technology.  

Mr Ike Kunene, Managing Executive: Government Business Services, Telkom, introduced his delegations and stated that that South Africa Connect Broadband Policy was the roadmap on SA broadband implementation, so school connectivity had to take regard of the policy’s strategic intent, aspiration and targets. Coordinated and integrated action on networks was critically important, as this would ensure that there was a removal of administrative regulatory bottlenecks, enforcement of wholesale access regulation and rationalisation of state-owned companies. The national Broadband network ensured that there was affordable, high speed broadband, universal coverage through multiple delivery modes and also an open access wholesale network. An ICT curriculum and e-literacy was also an important step to improve the quality of education, the quality of life and also harness the skills needed to secure and create jobs.

The Department of Communications (DoC) had approached Telkom to provide a connectivity solution for 1 650 schools for the DBE, and funding for the project had been secured through savings from the 2010 FIFA World Cup legacy project. The contract had duly been signed in 2010 by Telkom, the DoC and the DBE and the nine provincial Heads of Department. The value of the funds contracted amounted to R374,2 million. The Department had also promoted the use of a portal and Learner Management System (LMS) focusing on connectivity and hardware as a means to access content for teaching and learning. The DBE and the DTPS, via Telkom, was developing an educational portal and LMS so as to provide access to educational content for learners. The LMS would be an online tool for interactive sessions between learners and teachers. The portal and LMS would be developed for the learner, teacher, and parent and school administrations. This was expected to be completed in the current financial year.

Mr Kunene stated that the future plan for Telkom was to develop norms and standards to be agreed upon with the DBE. There was also an expected expansion of the 1 650 schools, to cover the 26 000 schools population, with a special focus on disadvantaged areas. There were still funding constraints, and adequate funding would have to be raised for future needs. Telkom also made it clear that there was a need for a clearly defined scope upfront, paying particular attention to the problem of bandwidth limitations, and instilling norms and standards for education solutions. He emphasised the need for training for the teachers and learners on how to use digital gadgets, exploring available cost effective options and accessing market entry for more players.

Mr Shameel Josuub, Group Chief Executive Officer, Vodacom, introduced his delegation and indicated that the presentation would focus on Broadband in general, and school connectivity. Vodacom prioritised on ensuring that people were able to have universal access to affordable Broadband at higher speeds to enhance service delivery. Vodacom’s Universal Service and Access Obligations showed that since 1994, 2 200 community service telephones had been delivered, 5 000 public schools had been provided with internet access, while 1 400 had been provided with terminal equipment. Vodacom was also proud to have provided internet connections to 893 schools around in the country, with 40 teacher training centres and an investment of R89 million, to ensure the project was sustainable and effective.

Challenges, and Vodacom’s plans to address the challenges in providing internet connectivity, included:
- Clear indication of beneficiaries;
- Approval of implementation plans;
- Project rollout issues;
- Internet connectivity not sufficient;
- Stakeholder engagement with ICASA;
- Obligations were extended to cover total service;
- Development of specifications;
- Appointment of a project manager;
- A R200 million budget allocation;
- ICASA amending licences to update and clarify obligations; and
- Addressing the funding model.

Mr Josuub said Vodacom’s revised universal service and access obligations required 1 500 schools to be connected -- about 300 schools per year -- with a minimum speed of 1 Mbps, which was a specification provided by the DBE. The implementation requires the involvement of key stakeholders, such as school representatives, a district IT representative and Vodacom representative, and an installation team representative. In Step 1, Vodacom aimed to provide training for a minimum of three school representatives on hardware installation and basic troubleshooting. Step 2 was to ensure that all stakeholders signed acceptance certificates confirming the delivery of equipment in good order, and training took place. Vodacom also made sure that schools were given access to the internet/Thutong Portal. Step 3 was the handover of the training manual to make it easy for the educators and learners to effectively utilise the service. 

Dr Tracy Cohen, Chief Corporate Services Officer, Neotel, introduced her delegations and said the presentation would focus on the role of Neotel regarding school connectivity. Neotel focused on delivering world class communication solutions through innovative technologies and focused customer service in South Africa.
Neotel had been granted a Public Switched Telecommunication Service (PSTS) licence on 9 December 2005. The licence had contained obligations which had been transferred to the converted Individual Electronic Communications Network Service (I-ECNS) licence in 2009. By 8 February 2011, rollout ECNS had reached 50% of the population (aggregated) in 14 listed metros and service availability had reached 80% of the population, with internet access at discounted rates to 2 500 public schools or FETs, and 2 500 rural public clinics and public hospitals.

Dr Cohen took the Committee through the implementation challenges in school connectivity roll-out. She said that Neotel had continuously expressed its commitments and intent to meet the licence obligations in a manner that upheld the principles, equity and consistency in the licensing framework. Between 2008 and 2010 no implementation plan had been approved. Neotel had submitted an alternative implementation plan for approval and ICASA had not approved it, citing the process of revising regulations on universal service for the sector, which took place between 2011 and 2013.

In April 2013, the authority published a schedule document for school connectivity, proposing a new model for the implementation of the school connectivity obligations, reducing the number of schools to 750, including those for people with disabilities (PWDs), but with additional hardware requirements. ICASA, in collaboration with the DBE, finalised the list of public schools, but the allocated schools fell outside Neotel’s network coverage areas. Neotel was currently in consultation with ICASA to address the implementation challenges

The new regulations were silent on healthcare obligations

Dr Cohen depicted Neotel’s progress on school connectivity rollout and other CSI education projects. In 2012, it had donated a maths laboratory to Nxuba SP school in Cradock, Eastern Cape. In 2013, a maths laboratory had been donated to Khayelihle Primary School in Vosloorus, which serves more than three schools in the area. In partnership with the Office of the Deputy Minister for Women, Children and People with Disability, Neotel haddonated ten laptop computers, a braille printer, and educational software to the University of Limpopo’s Disability Rights Unit. In partnership with Sasol Inzalo Foundation and the then Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, Neotel had handed over a mobile science outreach unit to the Eastern Cape Department of Education in the Cofimvaba District.

In 2013, Neotel had donated a maths laboratory to the community of Nqadu village in Willowvale, Eastern Cape, as part of its commitment to create quality education and providing easy learning and improving school maths and science. This was expected to be launched on 2 October 2014. In 2014, Neotel together with Momentum, would donate a maths laboratory to the Northern Cape Province.

Neotel was currently awaiting the amendment of the I-ECNS licence from ICASA and subsequent to receipt of the amended licence, the Neotel Board would approve the required budget. According to the last correspondence received from ICASA, Neotel had to connect 1 500 schools over a period of five years and the intention was also to connect 300 qualifying educational institutions with the network by the end of the 2015/16 financial year. The estimated costs, sourced from different suppliers, to connect public schools ranged from R152 721 to R247 932 per school connection, utilising the proposed ICT solution for schools. To expedite the connectivity rollout to rural public schools, USAASA in collaboration with ICASA should outline the process for licensees to apply for funds from the Universal Service and Access Fund. Future plans should ensure that licensees were able to access the USA Fund to rollout infrastructure in the under-serviced areas.

There was a dedicated focus on education-related CSI aimed at creating educational benefit through strategic partnerships with government. There was also a focus on enabling the realisation of the targets in the SA Connect Broadband Strategy. There were realistic constraints faced by ICT sector that could be addressed by access to the Universal Access and Service Fund. 

Cell C
Mr Graham Mackinnon, Chief Legal Officer, Cell C, introduced his delegation and indicated that the presentation would focus on the national Broadband network and schools connectivity.
The objective of the National Broadband Network Company (NBNC) was to provide genuine National Broadband Coverage at an affordable price. This was critically important in the provision of education and healthcare services in all areas, particular deep rural areas. The NBNC needed to be funded jointly through public and private investments, and the plan was to be primarily financed through upfront 50:50 debt equity, with the government providing guarantees for debt, providing incentives and looking for BEE entities to empower previously disadvantaged individuals.

Mr Mackinnon said on the 4 June 2014, ICASA had published amended Universal Service Obligations (USOs) under the radio frequency spectrum for Cell C, MTN and Neotel. The revised USOs contemplate the provision of internet access to 1 500 public schools by each mobile operator and 750 public schools by Neotel over a five year period. The model proposed by ICASA was essentially a turn-key model, with maintenance and repair to be obtained from the universal service and access fund. Cell C had concerns about the revised USOs and was in discussions with ICASA. The turnkey model may not be sustainable where operational support, administrative skills and financial resourcing for maintenance were not certain. Cell C recommended a consolidated, co-operative approach, where all stakeholders -- including the DTPS, DoC, DBSE and USAASA, provincial and local government -- could agree on a workable and sustainable model for the benefit of learners

Mr Ahmed Farouk, Chief Executive Officer, MTN, introduced his delegations and said that the presentation would focus on on Broadband and schools connectivity.
The network population clearly showed that MTN was continuously rolling out broadband coverage across South Africa, and MTN’s population coverage statistics as at June 2014 for 3G broadband was 85.12% -- an increase of 63% since 2007. MTN rolled out internet access to 593 schools as part of its previous 3G licence obligations, based on the list of schools provided to MTN. Schools received data cards with a R200 free once-off data bundle, which was more than the requirement. An MTN SIM card was provisioned on the e-rate. Training was provided on how to top-up their data bundles, which was important to ensure the rollout was effective for learners and teachers.

Mr Farouk said there were concerns in respect of the previous 3G USO rollout. These included the fact that e-rate SIM cards were not found in the allocated MTN data card, and only 37 schools out of 593 who were active -- loaded data bundles at 50% discount within the last 90 days -- were utilising the internet services. These problems contributed to the underutilisation and ineffectiveness of the 3G USO rollout. The new licence obligations aimed to address precisely these challenges, as the schools connectivity was being reviewed and amended in April 2014.
The Internet connectivity model had been amended to the ICT solution, which involved a full computer laboratory with notebooks or tablets on mobile trolleys. MTN was currently in the process of evaluating tenders to appoint a service provider to rollout the ICT solution in 1 500 schools, and R257 million had been set aside to deliver on this obligation. Coordination was also required between MTN, the DBE and ICASA to ensure a successful rollout.

Mr Farouk took the Committee through the recommendations for new schools’ rollout. These included:
- The programme needed to be sustained in the long run;
- The DBE needed to put in place training to ensure achange of mindset by educators towards ICT and the sustainability of the initiative;
- Enforcement of accountability and ownership of the facilities, including insuring schools’ property in the event of theft or damage;
- Schools must be assigned a training ICT educator so that the benefits can be realised;
- SIM cards, as equipment, are targets for the theft and fraud. Therefore, it was advised that SIM cards must immediately be deactivated when removed from the devices they were provided with;
- Security must be in place to safeguard equipment; and
- Internet connectivity via the educational portal provided by the DBE, so that access and content can be monitored. This had recently been put in place via theDBE cloud portal.

The MTN Foundation schools’ connectivity programme aimed to improve the standard and quality of teaching and learning through the use of technology. The MTN CSI programme was focused on mathematics, science and technology programmes, targeting learners and educators, and also science centre development. Between the year 2008 and 2013, the MTN spent R129 million on CSI education -- 34% of the overall CSI budget -- and 361 schools had been connected since 2003. It was concerning that 129 schools connected between 2003 to 2007 were no longer functioning. The reason for this was that equipment had reached the end of its life span, and had not been upgraded. In some cases, equipment had been stolen or damaged. MTN was still expected to rollout 45 computer laboratories this year.  

A number of lessons had been learned in the CSI schools connectivity rollout programme, and these included:
- In many schools visited after implementation, the computers had been stolen or were not operational;
- In most cases, no dedicated ICT educators were available, therefore, the facility was underutilised or not used at all;
- In most schools, the modems were available but the SIM cards were removed and unaccounted for;
- Educators did not use the whiteboard and the data projector, citing inadequate training;
- Laboratories were locked, and only the principals had keys, causing limited access;
- In one school, the principal had removed all the equipment immediately after installation and locked it in a strong room for safety. As a resul,t learners were not aware that there was a computer laboratory;
- MTN had adopted the programme to ensure sustainability, and intensive monitoring was required to ensure success.

Mr Farouk also emphasised that there were still challenges in the rollout of Broadband. These included the absence of rapid deployment guidelines and the local government approval process hampered rollout. This had been the case in the Western Cape, where land use applications took six to 12 months to be approved. Buffalo City consent could take anything from eight to 16 months, and in one Gauteng municipality, a building plan took 30 months to be approved. MTN also planned to address the problem of vandalism and copper theft, as this impacted on the industry due to security costs, replacement costs and the denial of service to customers.

Ms M Shinn (DA) said the presentations indicated a lot had been done in terms of providing an ICT service to learners. However, she expressed disappointment that over the fact that there was fragmentation between the DTPS, DBE and all the service providers on the visions, goals and objectives, as well as the funding model. She thanked SITA for its wonderful work on education projects in the Western Cape. The service providers needed to provide details on the location of schools that had been connected, so they could be inspected during the oversight visits. She also urged the service providers to be consistent on the number of schools that had been connected.

Ms J Killian (COPE) also echoed the concern that there was fragmentation within the service providers. This needed to be addressed through the establishment of a monitoring team. It was concerning that it had taken ICASA nine years to establish a Universal Service Obligation. She asked if there was strategy in place to manage the commitment of licensees. She expressed concern over the small number of schools that were connected in the rural and remote areas.

Mr D Mnguni (ANC) also expressed concern that rural areas were neglected, as this was where the majority of people were not exposed to computers and modern gadgets. There was a need to provide details on the location of schools that were connected to Broadband. What happened after the end of a five-years contract to provide the wi-fi connection to schools?

Mr C Mackenzie (DA) said it was obvious that South Africa was a highly unequal country in terms of access to modern gadgets, and urged that there was a need to increase the number of schools that were provided with laboratories, laptops and tablets in order to improve the learning environment in the country. The DTPS needed to ensure that there was standardisation on what was expected from the service providers in addressing school connectivity. It was not enough to just provide equipment to schools without ensuring that there was training of teachers on the way to use it effectively, to improve the quality of education. The rollout of tablets needed to be increased, as they had the potential to improve the learning environment drastically. Who was ultimately responsible for the project rollout?

Ms D Tsotetsi asked about the security measures at schools to protect the equipment, as there were cases of burglary and equipment being stolen. She echoed that there was a need to provide not only the number of schools that were connected, but also the actual geographic location. She asked for a breakdown of information into race and gender, to see the areas that still required emphasis. What were the criteria that were used by the service providers when selecting schools to be connected? Was there a way to establish the nuimber of schools that would be connected annually?

Ms N Mokoto (ANC) also expressed her disappointment that rural areas were neglected by service providers, and urged that the priority should be on development rather than profit. The network providers were being given opportunities to establish markets in rural areas, as this was where the connection of schools was needed the most. The DBE needed to identify schools that were in desperate need of ICT services. She supported diversification and flexibility in the rollout, depending on the circumstances in different areas.

Ms J Basson (ANC) asked whether there was a strategy in place to deal with a loss of signal connections in peripheral locations. She expressed concern that SITA seemed to focus on the Western Cape region, and asked it to spread geographically. How was Vodacom going to select the three class representatives?

Mr M Mpontshane (IFP) commended the introduction of tablets to learners, as technology was moving at a fast pace. He remarked that there was lack of coordination between the service providers. What was the strategy in place to monitor the sustainability of the projects? Had the service providers responded to the call by the President to provide all educators with laptops?

Ms C Majeke (UDM) said there were schools in Mpumalanga that had been provided with connection to the Broadband, but were now not functional. She was also disappointed that deep rural areas had been disregarded. She asked Vodacom whether schools needed to pay for their data bundles. Was it possible to introduce smaller devices, to avoid the stealing by criminals?

Mr Mnisi responded that it was indeed true that the issue of coordination needed to be addressed, not only among the service providers but also within the DBE and DTPS. Although the DBE focused on the ICT, there was a need to ensure that these projects were sustainable, and that students and teachers were provided with adequate training. The vision, objectives and goals of the service providers needed to be aligned, as fragmentation was likely to prove ineffective. The department was working on providing details of the location of the schools that had been connected.

Mr Ngobeni said it was clear that there was fragmentation within the service providers, the DBE and DTPS, and suggested that there was a need for a meeting of this nature, where all the stakeholders would convene to address the issue of school connectivity. There were currently 24 136 public schools and 1 584 private schools, and progress on connectivity should be measured against these numbers. There was a need to use ICT for innovation, to enhance performance in maths and science.

Mr Mongake said that Sentech had connected 174 schools and indicated that there was a plan to increase this number in the next financial year. There was also a focus on deep rural areas, as Sentech was obligated to connect the under-serviced regions. The problem of three Mpumalanga schools that had been disconnected was being investigated to determine the cause of the disconnection.

Ms Ndhlovu welcomed the remarks by the Committee Members, as they had shown what still needed to be addressed, going forward. ICASA was planning to formulate a strong relationship with the DBE, DTPS and service providers to ensure that there was an alignment and coordination in terms of vision, goals and objectives. Penalties were incurred by service providers that failed to deliver connectivity as they were obligated by law. The majority of schools (4 500) that had been supplied with connectivity were rural schools, and had mostly been chosen by the DBE. She accepted the comment on the disjuncture between the service providers, and expressed concern that different strategies were implemented by service providers to supply connectivity at schools. It was difficult to deal with the issue of theft and burglary, as this was not the role of ICASA.

Mr Monyai said that SITA’s focus was not only in Western Cape, but was spread geographically to other provinces, like Gauteng and KZN. There had also been engagements with the provinces of Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and Limpopo to increase Broadband connections throughout the country.

Ms Moiloa reiterated that there was a need for coordination within the service providers to improve the Broadband connection at schools. USAASA was focused on rural areas, as this was where Broadband connection was lacking. The number of schools connected was very small compared to the needs, and this required adequate funding.

Mr Josuub remarked that a meeting of this nature was long overdue and needed to take place at least twice a year. Vodacom actually targeted rural areas and was committed to provide the Committee with detailed figures on the location of schools supplied with the Broadband connection.

The Chairpersons indicated that education was a priority of the government. This was evident from the budget allocation to education. They urged the service providers to ensure that there was coordination on the vision, goals, objectives and funding model. Both the DBE and DTPS were asked to provide detailed figures and names of the schools that had been supplied with Broadband connectivity by the end of November 2014. The two departments also needed to write a report on the mandates that were expected to guide the service providers.
They both thanked everyone who had been present at the Committee meeting, especially all the delegations from the service providers.

The meeting was adjourned.

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