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SA to lead African broadband initiative

South Africa will be playing a leading part in building an affordable broadband network for the continent, Minister of Communications Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri has told parliamentarians.

Speaking in her Budget vote on Thursday, she said the New Partnership for Africa’s Development-led initiative to build the network involves in the initial stages 22 countries in Southern and East Africa. It involves terrestrial and submarine networks.

It also involves “in excess of 30 African companies”, she said, noting that the ministers of the participating countries will meet in Johannesburg on June 6 and 7 to consider recommendations of their directors general and permanent secretaries.

The minister said she has taken a policy decision to support the application of open, non-discriminatory and affordable access to “these networks”.

She said special-purpose vehicles could be used to develop, own and maintain the cross-border land and submarine cable segments of these networks.

“The objective of this important project, which encompasses both coastal and land-locked countries, is to support regional integration and our socio-economic objectives through providing affordable connectivity.”

She noted that the Industrial Development Corporation has developed a special-purpose-vehicle model.

Turning to South Africa, she said in addition to the broadband backbone cable that links large business centres, there is a need for wireless broadband access, especially in remote areas.

“Wireless broadband networks are less costly to roll out as they do not require the digging of long trenches. It is for this reason that we have decided to invest in it. We will be strengthening the policy framework that encourages more players to consider investing in wireless broadband.”

Noting that at the July Cabinet lekgotla (meeting) last year it was decided that Sentech was “a strategic national asset, which has important infrastructure and expertise”, she announced that Sentech will form the core of South Africa’s wireless broadband infrastructure network, which the country will use to advance its socio-economic development goals.

Secondly, Sentech’s wireless broadband infrastructure network “would be expanded beyond the current footprint and enabled it to carry voice to the end user in the provision of this service, thus giving full effect to its multimedia licence”.

Matsepe-Casaburri said: “Accordingly we will be expediting the finalisation of discussions to find an appropriate funding model that takes into account the fact that Sentech provides and should continue to provide both public and commercial services.” — I-Net Bridge

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Donwald Pressly
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