Western Cape Broadband Initiative

broadband_fibreHi everyone,

By now most of us know about the broadband initiative coördinated and driven by The Western Cape Government’s Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT). The tender was awarded to Neotel and the goal is to make internet available to every citizen.I have personally dreamt about this since 1997. There are so many reasons why this is a requirement and it is a pity that Provincial and even National Government took so long to realise the value of this. Needless to say, it’s finally a reality and a great positive for the Western Cape citizens and economy in general! Another example of the Western Cape’s ability to drive technology in the country and that we are really the technology hub of South Africa.

So what more is there to say about this initiative? Well, I have a few things on my mind…

Whoever decided that DEDAT should drive the initiative was insane and probably made that decision under the influence of something! Yes, internet access for all is mainly part of economic development, but DEDAT is only a recipient! They should have been a key partner in the initiative and not the driving force. Yes, I know SITA did the tender and took care of the technicalities, but I think DEDAT was the wrong provincial department to head this.

I do take my hat off to EVERYONE involved, because it was obviously a daunting task and I think it is a huge win for Neotel on so many levels.

Let’s think of this… In your business, your marketing division wants to buy systems to enhance the company’s marketing reach and thereby increase sales revenue. Do they go out and simply buy what they think they need or do they write-up their requirements and then hand that over to the ICT division to drive the process? I can write-up a couple of pages on why it would be wrong for them and the business to go at it themselves and not use the ICT division as the driver, because your marketing division will be the recipient.

Now the aim of this initiative is to make freely available internet access to all citizens. I’m not going into the reasons, because I think it’s common knowledge. I have no doubt that this will be achieved, but my issue is with ‘how quickly‘ it will achieved. In terms of the planned phases, this is still some time away. We are talking about “2030” for all citizens across the Western Cape districts to have access to free internet.

What baffles me is why they kicked off with the schools first if the end-goal is to provide free access to all citizens? I can see some of the reasoning with the schools, libraries and provincial departments, but I am not yet persuaded to why and how it is more beneficial in terms of the goal.

Two approaches that would have been more beneficial and would have allowed a faster roll out and coverage would have been…

  1. Cooperative government. The municipalities have the biggest infrastructure footprint in the Western Cape. Especially in the rural areas where they already have wireless infrastructure set up on critical high-sites throughout the Western Cape. Tap into that network and I’m sure we can easily reach 60% of the required coverage.
  2. Businesses collaboration. This basically comes down to “killing two birds with one stone” – The first birdie, being that there are many small wireless internet service providers in the districts, but a key factor is that they have been able to collaborate with the municipalities and farm owners to gain access to critical high-sites. I would have thought that the initiative would make available incentives to these small providers and thereby gain access to their wireless networks and almost immediately being able to give access to citizens. The second birdie is obviously enhancing the status of these small providers, which is obviously a goal of economic development of small businesses.

What am I trying to get at with these two points? Basically considering the aforementioned it would have allowed a “quick-win” solution that could run parallel to the existing roll out plan and building an infrastructure.

In the district where I live, our municipality covers about 8 towns, many farms and smaller settlements. Using the municipal infrastructure, we could give all citizens in this district access to internet connectivity in less than a 12 months. I can go further to say that the neighbouring municipality is using the same service provider and on the same network, thus within the same 12 months I can add another couple of towns.

Furthermore, let’s consider the libraries. Most of the libraries are already on the municipal networks and connecting at speeds exceeding the envisaged in terms of the roll out plan. DEDAT can’t change anything on the tender, so I say ‘yes’ continue to roll out to the libraries, but that means a node becomes available on a municipal network. It is this node that can easily be extended by these smaller providers to the rest of the citizens.

What about last mile connectivity. Most of the schools already use the smaller service providers to gain access, so why not expand on that?

I can go on an on about this, and I’m not saying that I understand everything about the broadband initiative 100%, but I’m surely not completely wrong.

I’ve asked the questions many times and one key answer that is very relevant is the fact that Provincial Government, through SITA, cannot procure on behalf of municipalities. What they are missing is that I’m not talking about procuring on behalf of municipalities, but I am referring to getting municipal service providers on board given that they have already built extensive infrastructures for these municipalities. Remember I am referring to “quick-wins” and this is easier to achieve and can run concurrently and in support of the Broadband roll out plan.

Citizens want to see progress and not read about it. I don’t want to hear about schools being connected, while my house is directly next to the school and I don’t have access. This goes with everything that involves delivering a service to citizens. If you promise citizens houses, we will not be happy until the few houses are built. We are not interested in foundations being laid and see plastered walls. So telling people they will have free access by 2030 is a very long way to go – 16 years is way too long – Can you imagine where technology will be in 16 years?

As I said before, I am very supportive of the entire broadband initiative and I know that it is one of the best investments this country is making. I’m in no way negative about it, but I think the entire roll out would have been reconsidered and if the right Provincial Department was coordinating the initiative. I think municipalities would have been involved from the start and 60% coverage could have been achieved within the first 2 years opposed to the 16 years.

Be that as it may, I want to thank DEDAT, SITA and everyone who were involved in this – Great work guys and girls.



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