Government says that targets for connecting 50% of all schools and clinics in South Africa at speeds of 10Mbps or more by 2016 will be met, and that it remains committed to the principle of open access broadband networks with greater competition in the last mile as laid out in the National Broadband Policy, SA Connect, last year.
The remarks were made by minister for telecommunications and postal services, Dr Siyabonga Cwele, at a breakfast event hosted by the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI) at Neotel’s offices in Midrand this morning.
The National Broadband Policy was accepted by cabinet almost exactly a year ago, and calls for universal access to 100Mbps broadband in South Africa by 2030. Short term goals include a network connection for every school and hospital by 2020. Two weeks ago, ICASA published an IMT roadmap document which outlines plans to free up and use the low frequency 450-470Mhz band of radio coverage for long distance broadband coverage to rural areas.
According to Cwele, plans are in place to connect 580 clinics, more than 4400 schools and 572 other government buildings over the course of 2015. Rapid deployments of broadband connectivity in rural areas will be heavily reliant on mobile technologies, Cwele said, but the long term aim of SA Connect will be to expand the fixed line national broadband network across the country in order to meet ultimate targets.
“Only fixed broadband can deliver the speeds necessary for true e-education [and health],” Cwele said, “So that a nurse in a clinic can be guided by a doctor in a hospital or a lecturer can be linked to a rural school – that’s the vision for where we’re going.”
Cwele underlined government commitment to the principle of an open access wholesale backbone, calling for business to collaborate on expanding the fibre internet backbone.
“[We should be] sharing infrastructure rather than replicating investment,” Cwele said, “The most critical element is to close the gaps in coverage and create competition in the last mile for services to people.”
SA Connect calls for the development of shared infrastructure for both wired and wireless internet backbone services, and more competition in the last mile of connectivity through Local Loop Unbundling and its equivalents in order to drive down costs to consumers.
Cwele, whose previous brief was as minister for information with responsibility for overseeing government security services, also touched on the creation of Cyber Security Hub which has been planned and will be administered by his department. He acknowledged that the project – which is designed to share up-to-date online security information and threat detections between government and the private sector – was behind schedule but that it should be operational in early 2015.
“Two years ago we adopted a framework for Cyber Security in South Africa,” Cwele said, “We are specifically tasked to create this hub where all of us can share information about threats and incidents and the impact of cybercrime [to improve] how police can deal with it.
Cwele says that the Cyber Hub is necessary to keep government and local businesses informed and up-to-date on threats and best practices, but also to increase consumer confidence and allow the digital economy to grow.
“We have to increase the general importance of cyber security,” Cwele said, “Because the internet is so important for future of economy. We have to ensure people who use the internet have confidence their privacy and information is protected.”
When asked by htxt.africa about whether or not the same mandate would include increased transparency around issues of government surveillance of the internet, Cwele said that he believes the existing oversight regime is strong enough to protect civil liberties.
“I think we are a transparent enough,” Cwele said, “We are governed by laws, guided by the constitution and have adequate oversight.”
Concerns around police powers and the Regulation of Interception of Communications (RICA) Act have been raised several times this year by activists at Right2Know. In October it published a report which criticised security services for consistently delaying reports and ignoring requests made under the Promotion Access to Public Information Act. Cwele, however, says that he has faith that the current inspector general and RICA authorities are doing their job.
“Current regulation is up to the task,” Cwele said, “We’ve had long debates around the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) and parliament and the people of South Africa have spoken and said that we should limit these activities to core security efforts.”
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