Connectivity Is Key To Economic Inclusion – SA President Ramaphosa

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government has prioritised expansion of broadband reach and accessibility as authorities prepare to tackle several technology challenges in the country, including lack of connectivity.

Speaking at the opening of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Telecom World 2018 in Durban this week, Ramaphosa said connectivity is key to economic inclusion.

“There are currently 20 million South Africans who do not use the internet, for a range of reasons such as unaffordable data prices, lack of internet-enabled devices and lack of access. Yet, about 87% of households in South Africa have access to mobile phones, presenting us with a great opportunity to overcome digital exclusion and to drive inclusive growth and innovation.”

Ramaphosa said the government has accelerated the licensing of the radio frequency spectrum in the 2.6Ghz, 700Mhz and 800Mhz bands in the hope that this will hasten the growth of mobile communications.

“We have finalised consultations with the telecommunications industry and other stakeholders to ensure allocation of spectrum reduces barriers to entry, promotes competition and reduces costs to consumers. Following a Cabinet decision last month, our regulator ICASA is now preparing to licence available high demand spectrum. In addition, we have begun work in preparation for 5G spectrum licensing as part of our efforts to build a smarter digital economy.”

Dr Alison Gillwald Executive Director: Research ICT Africa, who is attending Telecom World 2018 and has co-authored a policy brief issued by the think-tank on the sidelines of the event, believes the South African government should be pushing ICASA to play a more active role to ensure greater affordability of ICT in the country.

“Government must prioritise affordable access to communications by ensuring more optimal co-existence of licensed and unlicensed spectrum that will optimise spectrum for diverse needs in the country by different types of commercial and non-commercial service providers. On this basis it must allow ICASA urgency to release and assign current high demand LTE spectrum to allow operators to provide 4G services on more optimal bands that will make services more cost effective. ICASA must also assign licensed spectrum required for the evolution of existing services at a competitively determined price to ensure the build-out of capital-intensive networks benefiting from economies of scale and devices.”

Gillwald also recommends that secondary use of spectrum be made available, such as dynamic spectrum assignment, for deployment in rural areas. This can be delivered at a fraction of the price of GSM technologies, she believes.

Research ICT Africa’s 2017 After Access Survey found that South Africa has far more internet users than other African countries although half of the population is still offline.

The 50 percent that are online earn more than R 7 167 a month, according to the survey which also identified the lack of Internet-enabled devices and digital literacy, both of which are associated with poverty, as the main barriers to getting online.

Mobile phone penetration among owners of informal and/or small businesses is very high (93%), yet less than a fifth of them use of mobile phones for business processes and management according to the survey.

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