The Portfolio Committee met to discuss the broadband connectivity in schools and communities, using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the role this could play in the socio-economic development of the country. The implementation of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) focused on coordination role of the departments and how the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (the Department) engaged with both public and private sectors on the delivery of broadband. Most of the service providers who briefed the Committee stressed that the issue of inadequate funding needed to be addressed as there were more schools, hospitals and communities that still needed to be connected and provided with technological equipment.
A number of presentations were given on the role of various entities in the sector, starting with an introduction from the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services on the role of the Department overall. He emphasised that there was still a need to engage with both the public and the private sector on the delivery of broadband especially on under-serviced (mostly rural) areas. In support of the National Infrastructure Plan, government had also adopted the National Development Plan (NDP) and the associated strategy "South Africa Connect", which gave expression to South Africa’s vision of setting up a seamless information infrastructure, by 2030, that would underpin a dynamic and connected vibrant information society and a knowledge economy that was more inclusive, equitable and prosperous. The Department was currently developing the implementation plan for South Africa Connect with the objective of providing accessible and affordable broadband for all citizens, by focusing on both supply and demand side interventions. It was noted that there were four strategies for SA Connect, encompassing digital readiness and policy environments, development and improved procurement, opportunities to take up and use broadband infrastructure through the development of e-Skills and applications, with localised content, and finally eliminating unevenness of service provision across all areas.
The Independent Communications Authority (ICASA) noted the current status of schools connectivity, assisted by the various operators, and explained the universal service obligations, and the plans for coverage. Supply side interventions for digital readiness focused on radio frequency spectrum, broadband value chain analysis, facilities leasing (access) regulations and International Telecommunications Union (ITU) broadband statistics collection. ICASA had updated the National Radio Frequency Plan, with new mobile broad bands, and a frequency migration plan, and the final roadmap and frequency spectrum assignment plans would be promulgated by the end of the financial year. Mention was made of the demand-side interventions, regulations, awareness campaigns and the role of the South African Post Office in promoting universal service and access. From 2015, ICASA would be completing the spectrum assignment process, formulating more regulatory frameworks, including on white spaces use, setting up regulatory frameworks for infrastructure sharing, trying to remove barriers to competition and introducing open access regimes, whilst stimulating demand.
The Universal Service and Access Agency (USAASA) noted that it was a Schedule 3A public entity, and stressed the need to look at connectivity holistically. It outlined the provision of connectivity for schools, and said it was also working with 195 under-serviced local municipalities, and priority was being given also to eight National Health Insurance sites. The Anchor Tenancy roll out model was described, and how it would contribute to sustainability. Full details were given on recently-completed and current projects, based on their status as the most under-serviced areas.
The State Information Technology Agency (SITA) set out its mandate, which included providing security environment to departments, assistance and promotion of efficiency in public bodies through ICT. The network design for interconnectivity focused on coverage to all the Department of Basic Education (DBE) national and provincial offices, with particular emphasis on security services and age-appropriate applications for internet use. The governance workstream focused on putting effective governance mechanisms in place for e-government programmes. The particular challenges included lack of funding across all government departments, lack of governance structures and policies, and some technical problems with the portal technology. SITA worked with contracted telecommunications service providers, including Telkom and Broadband Infraco, and it was working closely also with several government departments to ensure industry best practices were adopted.
Broadband Infraco attended to national, provincial and district backhaul, allowing private investment to lead the way in the access market. Its rollout of long-distance backhaul fibre should enable provincial governments to leverage broadband infrastructure and services for economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction efforts. It was running internship programmes, and also aimed to transform the sector with empowerment of black women, youth and Small Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMME) nationally. Challenges cited by this entity also included funding, attraction of core and critical skills, autonomy of the network, coordination of rollout across spheres, but it had ongoing engagement with the Department on funding support, was reprioritising some capital projects and working on funding proposals.
Sentech described how it was focusing, in this year, on the Very Small Aperture Terminal Wireless Service (VSAT), and enabling broadband connectivity to the key government and public entities such as the Department of Basic Education (DBE) in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) and Free State, and the USAASA for the ICT hubs. Sentech would also look at alternative and more affordable satellite providers for this product, to ensure that VSAT was affordable to customers and could compete in the tough market place. The numbers of CSI schools connected were described, and it was emphasised that training was a vital component. Sentech formed partnerships to deliver connectivity to schools and to other government departments in various provinces.
Members raised concern that there was lack of coordination between all the service providers and urged that this fragmentation needed to be addressed with urgency. Several indicated the need to have someone managing and overseeing SA Connect overall. They also expressed disappointment that the service providers seemed not to appreciate the bias by government towards the under-serviced areas. More than one Member wanted the service providers to give specifications on the name and location of the schools and communities that had been assisted on broadband connectivity, as this was important for the purpose of oversight visits. Members also expressed concern that there seemed to be role confusion between the service providers and this would make it difficult to achieve the overarching goals. They emphasised that the Department and regulatory authority needed to regulate the service providers as it was obvious that there was over-concentration in urban areas where there was potential for profit, and stressed that without this being addressed, there would be no bridging of the digital gap. They asked who was responsible for creating awareness of e-government services, asked for more detail on the road shows, and sought clarity on the relationships between the entities and how they would empower women and other small enterprises. They wanted more details on the broadband penetration, whether there had been any audit of infrastracture on the ground, incentives that could be offered to the private sector, more detail on the role in the provision of NHI services, and the need to reduce the cost to communicate. Not all questions were answered in the meeting and the remaining answers must be sent through in writing. Members adopted minutes of 21 October and 7 November. They asked that SAPO and its matters be placed on the agenda as a standing item.
Broadband connectivity in schools & communities to promote socio-economic development
The Acting Chairperson tendered apologies from Members, and welcomed the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services and presenters)
Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) introductory briefing
Mr Siyabonga Cwele, Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, welcomed everyone to the meeting and highlighted that the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS or the Department) was presenting on the implementation for the National Broadband Plan (NBP), focusing particularly on the coordination role of the Department. The Department was looking at ways to engage with both the public and the private sector on the delivery of broadband. The framework for the prioritisation of National Broadband connectivity rested on four key pillars - the Constitution, the National Development Plan (NDP), New Growth Path (NGP) and Strategic Integrated Projects (SIP). The NDP particularly recognised that by 2030, the Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) sector would underpin the development of a dynamic and connected information society and a vibrant knowledge economy that would be more inclusive and prosperous.
In support of the National Infrastructure Plan (NIP), government had also adopted the NDP and the associated strategy "South Africa Connect", adopted on 4 December 2013. He said that South Africa Connect gives expression to South Africa’s vision of a seamless information infrastructure by 2030 that would underpin a dynamic and connected vibrant information society and a knowledge economy that was more inclusive, equitable and prosperous. The Department was currently developing the implementation plan for South Africa Connect and the objective was to provide ubiquitous and affordable broadband for all the citizens, by focusing on both supply side and demand side interventions.
Mr Cwele took the Committee through the four strategies of SA Connect, which were:
- Digital readiness and the future - to create an enabling policy legislative and regulatory environment for broadband delivery by removing administrative bottlenecks
- Digital development - aggregating public sector demand from improved procurement and prioritising on connectivity to schools, clinics and other government facilities
- Digital opportunity - driving uptake and usage of broadband infrastructure through the development of e-Skills, application and localised content
- Digital future - the primary focus would be on eliminating unevenness in the broadband provision, especially in under-serviced areas.
The Department needed to consider the geographic as well as local access gap and this could be assisted through the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), focusing on the gap in rural under-serviced areas. The biggest gap was identified to be in the access network. The delivery chain for broadband would be coordinated by the DTPS which would be the primary interface to the line departments. The Department would appoint a suitable implementation agent or agencies that would work with licensed service providers on the delivery of the broadband connectivity programme. The Department was also engaging with both the public and private sector to understand the broadband plans of State Owned Companies (SOCs), provincial government and the private sector and also understand the rollout challenges of the entities and how the Department could intervene in a constructive manner.
Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) briefing
Dr Stephen Mncube, Chairperson, ICASA, indicated that ICASA was mandated by the 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, including black people, with particular attention paid to the needs of women, opportunities for youth and challenges for people with disabilities. The ICASA process included the licencing of entities to provide electronic communication services, and when it did so, it would then impose terms and conditions in return of issuance/granting of licence. These terms and conditions would include universal access and service obligations, broadband connectivity to communities, schools, public institutions and under-serviced areas. There was also a need to expand the reach of services, especially network service like infrastructure.
Dr Mncube mentioned that four operators had finalised their schools connectivity obligation, and 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 (or less, if possible). Failure to complete within five years carried a hefty penalty. Cell C, Vodacom and MTN had, in total, schools of 4 500, with each bearing responsibility for 1 500 schools, whilst Neotel had a total of 750 schools. It was important to note that these figures were inclusive of institutions of people with disabilities. The Universal Service Obligation (USO) prioritised on providing schools who were deemed not to be in a position to afford access in the commercial market, and where the ICT 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 widen the scope of imagination of learners, by interaction with wider population by way of communalisation, via social platforms, e-mails and so forth.
The broadband policy of ICASA was to ensure that 50% of the population would have broadband coverage at 5Mbps by 2016 and 100% at 10 Mpbs by 2030. In addition, 50% of schools, health and other public institutions should have coverage at 10 Mbps by 2016, and 100% at 1 Gbps by 2030. The Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) focused on expanding, modernizing and increasing affordability/accessibility of ICT infrastructure and services and aimed to increase broadband penetration, from the 2013 baseline of 33.7%, to 80% by 2019.
The supply-side interventions for digital readiness focused on radio frequency spectrum, broadband value chain analysis, facilities leasing (access) regulations and International Telecommunications Union (ITU) broadband statistics collection. ICASA updated the National Radio Frequency Plan to reflect new mobile broadband bands. ICASA has also developed the Frequency Migration Plan to enable bands for mobile broadband to meet the final International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) targets. The Final IMT Roadmap and radio frequency spectrum (RFS) assignment plans were to be promulgated by the end of 2014/2015 financial year.
The analysis of the market structure focused on the provision of broadband to assess competitiveness so as to inform the high-level inquiry into competition currently under way, and the basis for broadband market review to promote competition. The Facilities Leasing Regulations (and Interconnection Regulations) were promulgated in 2010, to facilitate access to existing electronic communications networks, thereby reducing build costs. The support assessment of the country’s digital readiness through collection of broadband indicators data also facilitated the benchmarking of the country’s performance on broadband promotion against peer countries
The demand-side interventions for Universal Service Obligations (USOs) focused on regulations and imposing USOs for provision of internet connectivity to schools. The implementation of them expanded the scope of e-rate beneficiaries, in line with section 73 of the ECA. The consumer awareness campaigns focused on proactive engagement with consumers’ awareness campaigns and road shows, to ensure that they were better informed of the costs and usage of data services. The study on the role of the South African Post Office (SAPO) in promoting universal service and access in the digital era would be completed by the end of the current financial year. The discussion paper on Content Regulation (including Premium Content) in the Digital Era would be finalised in the 2014/2015 financial year.
Dr Mncube said that the focus for 2015/16 and beyond would require that ICASA should concentrate on the following:
- Complete IMT spectrum assignment process, by the issue of ITA for High Demand Spectrum
- Formulate and implement a regulatory framework on dynamic and opportunistic spectrum management, including the use of ‘White Spaces’
- Implement a regulatory framework for infrastructure sharing, including active infrastructure sharing
- Remove barriers to competition in the provision of broadband services
- Wholesale open access regime
- Demand stimulation
Briefing by Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA)
Mr Zami Nkosi, Chief Executive Officer, USAASA, mentioned that strategic objective of USAASA was to provide universal service to the people of the country, especially those located in rural areas. USAASA was established according to the Electronic Communication Act of 2005 and its status as a public body was affirmed through it scheduling under Schedule 3A of the Public Finance Management Act of 1999. USAASA’s value proposition included bringing to the fore its considerable experience, which it would share with its partners both in industry and within the public sector. USAASA also provided ICT services to public and private schools and hospitals, and Further Education and Training (FET) colleges. It was important to look at the issue of connecting schools holistically, as all telecommunication companies were obligated by the NDP to use communication, technology and information to empower the people of the country, especially those in under-serviced areas located in the periphery.
There were already schools in Gauteng that were provided with Wi-Fi connection for the learners in order to connect to the internet, even to those with Smartphone or personal laptops. There was also 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. The teachers 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, there were 15 schools where services were to be deployed, in Northern Cape and North West.
Mr Nkosi indicated that USAASA’s mandate was limited to under-serviced areas and a total of 195 under-serviced local municipalities were identified across seven priority provinces. In the future, priority in those provinces would be given to eight National Health Insurance (NHI) pilot sites including Dr Kenneth Kaunda, Gert Sibande, OR Tambo, Pixley ka Seme, Thabo Mofutsanyane, Umgungundlovu, Umzinyathi and Vhembe.
USAASA followed an “Anchor Tenancy” roll-out model where Government and other stakeholders were identified (beneficiaries) and these stakeholders were engaged with, to seek their support and with a view to them becoming paying anchor clients of the infrastructure. This addressed the issue of sustainability of the infrastructure. Following engagement with key stakeholders, USAASA would then invite operators, through a competitive bidding process, to apply for subsidies to roll out the infrastructure. The winning operator was then required to connect and service key points of interest within the local municipality, and provide on-going support.
The 2013/14 project in Msinga and Emalahleni was undertaken after USAASA awarded a subsidy to MTN to roll out the broadband infrastructure in Msinga and Emalahleni. MTN deployed HSPA networks, providing coverage of over 85% in each municipality. As part of the end to end arrangements, MTN further provided dedicated connectivity to the three Emalahleni municipality offices, connectivity to the Kwa-Zulu Natal Department of Education and a district office in Tugela Ferry. Other additional connectivity included provision of devices to 25 clinics in Emalahleni and 23 clinics in Msinga, and connectivity and devices (tablets and smartphones) to the three top performing schools in each municipality. The focus was also on the local economic development by providing small businesses with the ability to offer banking, electronic payments, connectivity and other services to citizens.
The current projects included the two areas which were selected based on their status as the most under-serviced in their respective provinces. USAASA had concluded all stakeholder engagements at the local municipality, district municipality and at provincial levels and had invited operators to apply for the subsidies. It was currently awaiting Board approval. It promised that similar end-to-end models as Msinga and Emalahleni were to be followed.
State Information Technology Agency (SITA) Briefing
Mr Freeman Nomvalo, Chief Executive Officer, SITA, stated that according to the SITA Act No.38 of 1998, SITA's 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. The SITA also assisted public bodies and promoted the efficiency of departments and public bodies through the use of information technology.
The network design for interconnectivity focused on coverage to all the Department of Basic Education (DBE) national and provincial offices, providing 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 a lot of emphasis on security services, especially the protection against unauthorised access to DBE applications and data and ensuring that there was age appropriate access to internet by introducing content filtering, content blocking and safe search. He indicated that in order to ensure that there was service sustainability, services and products to DBE were sustained.
The SITA e-Government Programme overview focused on governance work stream, policy provision, and ICT infrastructure and e-Services platform. The governance work stream focused on putting effective governance mechanisms in place to facilitate the optimal execution of the e-Government programme with associated change of management. The policy work paid more attention to providing input to policies and regulatory matters, to enable e-Government programme and the ICT Infrastructure work stream prioritised on ensuring adequate ICT infrastructure to deliver on e-Service, including telecommunications, and e-Government data processing/hosting environment. The e-Services platform work stream was also about establishing the full e-Government technology platform that enabled participating departments to deliver e-Services to the citizens.
Mr Nomvalo indicated that the challenges facing e-Government included:
§ Lack of Traversal Funding across all government departments
§ Lack of governance structures spanning all of government for e-Government
§ Lack of policy/strategy to indicate priority areas for e-Services
§ The capacitation of the e-Government Programme
§ Technical challenges with e-Government portal technology (Drupal) used for the initial e-Services
The SITA broadband programme was done in partnership with contracted telecommunications service providers (including Telkom, Broadband Infraco and others) in which the telecommunications service providers provided the physical infrastructure and SITA created and managed a secure private network for government. SITA was currently reviewing and developing a larger broadband-based, next generation network strategy in line with the government requirements.
Mr Nomvalo indicated the progress so far. Telkom’s Master Service Agreement (MSA) and Broadband Infraco long term agreements were in place and already managed to facilitate the first fully-fledged broadband programme for the Western Cape. SITA visited Eastern Cape Province recently to discuss the broadband requirements there, and the Gauteng Provincial broadband capacity and requirements were also reviewed. Capacity was currently being created and a Wide Area Network Strategy and Architecture team was established and would be augmented with a senior management oversight capability.
The challenges thus far included transactional issues. The use of the newly established Telkom MSA created delays and this must be resolved. The Broadband Infraco upgrade priorities were still to be finalised. The procurement of the Western Cape broadband equipment was still outstanding, which may impede adherence to the agreed project plan.
Mr Nomvalo said, in conclusion, that SITA continued to work closely with the DTPS and the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) to ensure alignment to existing policies and visions and the Transversal Funding. Governance must be addressed to ensure that SITA was not reactive in the development of e-Services. The SITA approach was aligned to industry best practise and international trends on the e-Government establishment.
Broadband Infraco briefing
Ms Puleng Kwele, Chief Financial Officer, Broadband Infraco, indicated that Broadband Infraco’s purpose was in line with the NDP of establishing national, regional and municipal fibre-optic network to provide the backbone for broadband access. Broadband Infraco operated on the premise that national backhaul, provincial backhaul and districts backhaul required state intervention, thus allowing private investment to lead the way in the access market. The vision of the DTPS was to ensure that 100% of South Africans would have access to broadband services at 2.5% less of the population’s average monthly income, by 2020.
Broadband Infraco’s rollout of long distance backhaul fibre to under-serviced areas would enable provincial governments to leverage such broadband infrastructure and services for economic growth, job creation initiatives and poverty reduction efforts. Broadband Infraco ran a graduate internship programme that targeted the development of scarce Network Engineering skill-pool in South Africa to meet current and future industry needs. The first intake was in January 2010, with three successful follow-up groups to date. Of these, six interns had been absorbed into permanent employment. There were currently ten interns recruited in 2013, to complete the programme in December 2014. The Basadi in Telecoms project was aimed at transforming the telecommunications sector through the empowerment of Black Women, Youth and Small Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMME) nationally.
Ms Kwele took the Committee through the challenges faced by Broadband Infraco on broadband connection in the country. She noted that these included:
§ Securing funding
§ Autonomy of the network
§ Attracting critical and core skills
§ Role of Non ICT SOCs with ICT assets
§ Coordination of provincial, district, metro and municipality broadband rollout
Actions taken to mitigate these challenges involved the following:
§ Ongoing engagement with the Department on funding support
§ Reprioritisation of capital projects to manage cash flow. Capex was revised from R529 to R386 million
§ Broadband Infraco had submitted an application for a R170 million short term government guarantee to the Executive Authority
§ A memorandum of Investment was submitted to the Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA). This was meant to solicit a funding structure for commercially viable projects.
§ Broadband Infraco intended to apply for a subsidy in terms of section 88(1)(b) of the ECA Amendment Act of 2014
§ Developing a compelling employee value proposition
§ Developing a commercial model for engaging the non ICT SOCs
§ Proposing a framework for engaging provincial and local government efforts
Mr Kganki Matabane, Chief Operations Officer, Sentech, said 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. He stated that the 2014/15 business strategy was to focus on Very Small Aperture Terminal Wireless Service (VSAT), specifically focusing on enabling broadband connectivity to the key government and public entities such as the Department of Basic Education (DBE) in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) and Free State, and the USAASA for the ICT hubs.
The sustainability of VSAT service remained precarious and going into the 2014/17 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), Sentech planned to focus on 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 compete in the tough market place.
Mr Matabane said there were 62 USAASA institutions throughout the country that had been successfully rolled out in the various provinces since the inception of the project. There were 116 DBE schools that had been successfully rolled out per province since the inception of the project. He said that Sentech was proud to have 58 common system interface (CSI) schools connected already and it planned to increase this number to 100. There were 135 schools that were connected in the current financial year and the plan was to increase the number to 270 schools in the 2016/17 financial year, which would be done in conjunction with the DBE. He said 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 people-centred driven sustainable development approach through the ICT interventions.
Mr Matabane emphasised that handover training was conducted when the installation was completed and this was to ensure the sustainability of the project. The training covered basic training to ensure that the school community knew how the computer equipment functioned, how the various pieces of the network talked to each other, how to log a call and the status to look for when logging a call. In the Mpumalanga schools connectivity arena, Sentech formed partnerships to deliver connectivity to schools and to other government departments in various provinces.
In Mpumalanga province, Sentech was approached by a technology company called Forty Two Technologies (Reseller) and the negotiations started in 2007. Forty Two Technologies signed a contract with the Mpumalanga Department of Education to install VSAT as a means of connectivity in all the schools over five years. By the end of 2009 a total of 609 schools had been rolled out. The 609 installed schools could, however, not be switched on due to budgetary constraints from the Mpumalanga Department of Education. The Forty Two Technologies partnered with Vodacom, who continued with the rest of the schools rollout, and this has led to the dilapidation of equipment due to neglect and vandalism.
Ms J Killian (COPE) expressed concern that there seemed to be role confusion between the service providers and this would make it difficult to achieve the overarching goals. There was a need for the Committee to actively participate in the oversight about the number of schools and communities that had been connected to the broadband. The presentation by the Department was very helpful as it identified gap analysis, and this clearly illustrated where there was over-trading, which usually happened whenever there was lack of regulation. It was important for the Department to regulate the service providers, as it was obvious that there was over-concentration on urban areas, where there was the most potential for profit. This, however, would make it impossible to bridge the digital gap in the country.
Ms Kilian stressed that the primary focus should be under-serviced areas, which were unfortunately not a lucrative market for private operators to service. She wanted to know what informed the gap analysis by SITA, and whether that was based on the quality and evidence based research? The service providers need to be aware that the Department emphasised that there must be an open competition on services but not infrastructure. The Departmental service providers need to be careful not to utilise scarce resources to duplicate functions. The programme on skills development and training was not the function of the DTPS but rather of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHER). It was clear that all the service providers had plans regarding broadband connectivity. However, it was difficult to see that plan comprehensively, as there was lack of coordination. She wondered who was responsible for making people aware of e-Governance services.
Ms Kilian wanted to know who had attended the road shows by Broadband Infraco?
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC) asked whether there was a way the Department monitored consumer uptake for the development of online public services. She asked if the Green Paper on the national Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) policy review panel was already published. She wondered what the Committee Members could expect when doing an oversight trip in March 2015. She asked USAASA about its strategy to increase awareness in rural areas about its vision, objectives and goals. She requested ICASA to give time-frames on policy directions on high demand spectrum and digital literacy. She also requested SITA to provide time-frames for broadband connectivity. It was difficult to see how the plans of the service providers were aligned to the overall South African connective country broadband plan.
Ms M Mofolo (ANC) asked whether the Department had plans in place to empower women through ICTs, influenced by the Broadband Commission. She asked whether there was a strategy in place to extend the fibre network and bring it closer to the communities, and whether the targets for 2020 were realistic. She wanted to know how ICASA was planning to reach people in rural areas. She sought clarity on the relationship between Broadband Infraco and USAASA and how they helped each other in empowering Small Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs), as well as how these entities were also helping Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
Ms Mafolo asked how Broadband Infraco advertised its internships to rural areas, as people here were often excluded from these opportunities. She was impressed that about 400 women were registered, but wondered if they were drawn from all the provinces. She asked if there was a particular reason that Sentech was providing broadband connection to one district instead of four in North West.
Mr C Mackenzie (DA) indicated that the presentations by the Department and the service providers were impressive, but failed to provide time-lines for the completion of the projects. He asked when Members could expect to hear about the completion of the digital development objectives for the district municipalities. He urged that there was a need to close the gaps and to extend fibre- infrastructure to remote areas, as there was clear lack of concentration, at the moment, but the most need in the rural areas. It was unclear when the ICASA promised 100% broadband penetration as the timeframe was between 2020/2030 and therefore was creating ambiguity.
Mr Mackenzie asked what was the speed of covering 100% broadband penetration in the country, and whether there was any audit available on the infrastructure that was on the ground, from private to public sector. He asked what mechanisms were in place to facilitate the coordination between the public and private sector. He sought further clarity from Broadband Infraco on the open access network concept and the infrastructure sharing concept. What incentives besides spectrum availability could the Department offer the private sector to encourage them to open up their networks? He said it was of concern that public funds were being utilised to facilitate competition with the private sector, as this was the case with Broadband Infraco. He commended Sentech for its sterling work in broadband connectivity in both schools and communities, but asked if there were other challenges in the Mpumalanga school project.
Ms M Shinn (DA) asked whether there was someone managing SA Connect and pulling everything together, as this was unclear from all the presentations from service providers, including the Department. She wanted to know whether digital readiness in the future and the digital development objectives were some of the chapters in the SA Connect. What was the role of the service providers in the provision of National Health Insurance, and what was currently happening around last mile?
She echoed other Members' concerns about the apparent duplication of roles and functions and asked if SA Connect had a plan in place to deal with this problem. She needed to know more about the developments around high demand spectrum policy directives, and questioned the policies on infrastructure sharing. She made the point that one of the contributing factors in the cost of communication was the bureaucracy surrounding the rollout of infrastructure, including different policies between provincial and local Government, so she questioned if there was anybody in charge of streamlining the factors driving the cost of communication. She asked if SITA or the DPSA was in charge of driving the strategy in policy development for e-Government.
Ms Shinn wanted clarity on the statement that the Department of Science and Technology (DST) owed Broadband Infraco R170 million, saying that it was the most efficient government department. She asked what what would be the challenges in the budget squeeze, in terms of meeting the targets and which programmes were likely to be pruned.
Ms L Maseko (ANC) also expressed concern around the lack of an integrated approach across the service providers in terms of broadband connectivity and advised that it was better to work together than to try to outperform each other, especially when there was similar overarching goal. It was important for the Department to come up with a strategy to ensure that the rollout of broadband was done in defined phases and time-frames, so as to have a clear focus.
She suggested that the service providers needed to work closely with Telkom, which already had an established infrastructure. The service providers should move away from utilising copper cables and prefer fibre-optic, so as to curb copper theft. She sought clarity from ICASA on the launch of three new TV channels. There was a need to come up with plans to reduce the cost to communicate in the country, particularly since countries like Ghana managed to reduce the cost of communication by 90%. She requested USAASA to provide a breakdown of 195 under-serviced local municipalities identified across the seven priority provinces, so that these could be identified during oversight visits. She asked about the target age-group for the Young Women Programme, from Broadband Infraco, and what qualifications were required.
The Acting Chairperson asked why the Department took so long to allow Broadband Infraco to participate in the ICT policy review panel. She questioned if the target of July 2015 for the second phase of broadband rollout was feasible, She asked ICASA to name its priority areas for school connectivity and other public institutions, and asked what were the determining factors in those priority areas. The role of Sentech in the South Africa Connect policy was not clearly defined.
Ms Rosey Sekese, Director General, DTPS, responded that Broadband Infraco was participating in one of the sub-committees on infrastructure and services, which was in line with its role. The matter of Broadband was complex in the sense that it involved a lot of stakeholders and this made it impossible to coordinate between public and private sector. The programme on skills development and training was indeed the responsibility of the DHET, and the DTPS was only involved in the training of teachers on how to use the technological equipment provided to schools.
It was always difficult for the Department to attract the necessary skills but it would be impossible to implement broadband without adequate technical skills and capacity. The Department had challenges in the delivery of devices to different schools, and also lacked the capacity to ensure that the devices were effectively utilised in a sustainable manner. The Department was responsible for the coordination of SA Connect. It was difficult to engage with the service providers in the past, because of competition in broadband connection, and the Department had to ensure that there was unity and coordination in order to achieve the overarching goals. The Department was aware that unless it was able to deal with duplication of functions and roles then it would be impossible to bridge the digital gap in the country.
Mr Cwele responded that the Department was aware of open access and had already commissioned a study which would be concluded by 31 November 2014> This should help the Department to come up with a definition which could be further discussed with the interested partners, so as to find a common agreement in the country in terms of what was open access. This would help the Department to define, through ICASA, the infrastructure-sharing framework that was required, to eliminate the duplication of functions.
The gap analysis was provided, but there was still additional information that was still required. The Department was also working with ICASA for further analysis and this would include the gap analysis on wireless connection. The Department had established multi-stakeholder committees that included the national, provincial and South African Local Government Association (SALGA) levels, to ensure that there was coordination. There was also engagement with the private sector on the different forums to adopt a common appreciation of broadband connection in the country.
Mr Tinyiko Ngobeni, Deputy Director-General: ICT Infrastructure Support, DTPS, responded that the Department engaged with the private sector to encourage firms to invest in broadband connection as they also had corporate responsibility programmes, and the smart procurement approach under digital development spoke directly towards incentivising the private sector. The Department was engaging with Telkom, so as to utilise the available infrastructure, as this was also considered part of the way forward under the State Owned Companies' rationalisation.
Ms Sekese responded that the Department was gazetting a discussion document regarding the ICT policy review and the two page document was already signed by the Minster and was expected to be out by 14 November 2014. The Minster of DTPS was responsible for telecommunications, postal services and the issues of government and the Public Service Act, Section 1 empowers the Minster on e-Government.
Dr Mncube responded that ICASA was currently busy with a Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) which should be completed by the end of the current financial year and he promised to share the results with the Committee. ICASA was still waiting for the higher demand Spectrum policy from the Department, in order to provide the Members with the time-frames of the policies.
He responded that ICASA assigned regional staff in each of the provinces with a list on the regulator projects that were currently in progress and promised to provide the Members with detailed information about how ICASA reaches rural areas. ICASA did not necessarily work with the NGOs but they were involved in public hearings and often made presentations on issues like the cost to communicate and ICASA did consider their inputs.
He noted that the ambiguity regarding the deadline of 2020/2030 for 100% broadband connection was a direct response to the policy deadline but in the Spectrum Licensing Processes, ICASA was setting time-frames which were earlier than this. ICASA did a spectrum audit study, where it had identified licensees that must move out of certain bands so that they could be properly licensed for the new spectrum environment like the IMT and broadband projects.
ICASA was due to publish a paper on 01 December 2014 which would speak to how far the country could go with the development of infrastructure sharing as this was reducing the cost of communication. ICASA authorised channels and, almost on a monthly basis, would hear from different subscription operators. ICASA had a list from USAASA of the under-serviced areas and then there was also another list from the DBE on the list of underserviced schools. ICASA was collecting all the data to build on the spectrum licensing process, so that the operators could prioritise under-serviced areas and schools.
Ms Kwele expanded on issues involving Broadband Infraco. She responded that the registration of 400 women for enterprise development was a supply chain issue and part of the implementation of developmental policies to transforming the economy of the country. This was after realising that women;s and medium-sized enterprises were not responding of the tenders, and so there were now plans to specifically seek women participation. Broadband Infraco had realised that more information was still required for women to become part of the sector, and was trying to collaborate with other well-established enterprises that were focused on women.
The internship programme was particularly focused on people with Bachelor of Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science degrees. The internship was advertised through the website and various universities. There was a relationship between Broadband Infraco and USAASA, mainly about providing infrastructure, and there was also communication so as to avoid duplication of functions and roles.
Dr Setume Mohapi, Chief Executive Officer, Sentech, responded that Sentech would continue to work with the Department on the SOC rationalisation project as part of the way forward on broadband connection. There was recognition, in SA Connect, that there might be areas unreachable through the terrestrial infrastructure, and so Sentech had already utilised very expensive satellite distribution facilities to provide connectivity solutions. Sentech was proud to have 58 CSI schools which had been successfully rolled out already. She emphasised that there were already plans in place to increase this number to 100. There were 135 schools that were connected in the current financial year and the plan was to increase the number to 270 schools in the 2016/17 financial year and 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 people-centred driven sustainable development approach through the ICT interventions. The problems with the three Mpumalanga schools that were disconnected from the broadband were not clear at moment, but the challenge seemed to be around lack of funding, as the provincial government could not pay for the service that was provided by Sentech.
Dr Mohapi responded that Sentech was aligned with SA Connect at the conceptual level, especially in the short term, to be able to use the satellite services. He anticipated no budget pruning on the broadband services
Mr Nomvalo spoke to questions asked of SITA, and stressed that SITA was not ignoring rural areas and other under-serviced areas, but responded to requests, as opposed to initiating projects. It was the role of the Department of Health (DoH) to engage with service providers for e-services in the provision of National Health Insurance (NHI), and this was at the planning stage. The time-frame for the conclusion of the internal capacity was the end of December 2014. He stated that SITA was also working closely with the Department of Police and Department of Defence to find ways to optimise on core services so that the service delivery initiatives were not impacted negatively.
The Acting Chairperson requested that the service providers should respond to the outstanding questions in writing, in view of the time constraints. She thanked everyone who was present in the meeting, especially the service providers, and emphasised that it was important to ensure that the country was able to reduce the cost of communication.
Adoption of Committee minutes
The Chairperson asked that Members consider the minutes of 21 October 2014.
Ms Kilian pointed out some typographical errors. She also pointed out that in the section speaking to the Ikamva 2013/14 Annual Report, there should be reference made to an unqualified audit opinion “without matters of emphasis.”
Members adopted the minutes, with corrections.
Members then moved to consider the minutes of the meeting on 7 November 2014.
Ms Maseko pointed out that on page 3; paragraph 2, the spelling of Mr Mackenzie's name was incorrect.
Ms Killian said she was absent on the day but had submitted her apology, which was not noted,
Members adopted the minutes, subject to these corrections.
Mr Mackenzie asked that the South African Post Office (SAPO) issues and current status should be tabled as a permanent agenda item, considering the importance of the matter for the Members and the general public.
The Acting Chairperson said that was noted and would be forwarded to the Chairperson.
The meeting was adjourned.
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