Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Siyabonga Cwele, has noted that President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) has set in motion the first phase of SA Connect, which will involve a pilot to connect government facilities in eight poor district municipalities to “fast and reliable internet”.

According to Minister Cwele, phase one will witness a broadband rollout that will connect health facilities, schools and other government institutions in poor communities.

The identified district municipalities coincide with the National Health Insurance (NHI) pilot sites, which are Dr Kenneth Kaunda in the North West, Gert Sibande in Mpumalanga, OR Tambo in the Eastern Cape, Pixley ka Seme in the Northern Cape, Thabo Mofutsanyane in the Free State, Umgungundlovu and Umzinyathi in KwaZulu-Natal and Vhembe in Limpopo.

Along with broadband, Minister Cwele aims to incorporate technology in the pilots to improve the efficiency of the services delivered. “This rollout will be accompanied by requisite training to ensure that officials are able to use the technology that is available to them to improve the efficiency of their work and the quality of service experienced by the citizens,” said Minister Cwele.

Through the Strategic Integrated Project 15, state-owned companies, municipalities, provinces and other government departments were involved in developing the broadband rollout plan, which involved identifying gaps in infrastructure. Minister Cwele also added that the private sector has a role to play in bridging the digital divide, and will continue engaging with them to establish where investment should be directed.

During SONA, President Zuma announced the decision to designate Telkom as the lead entity to rollout fixed broadband, which according to Cwele was made to accelerate the process. “Telkom has the most extensive infrastructure in the country compared to other public and private sector players,” said Minister Cwele.

Minister Cwele added that the current infrastructure rollout by both public and private sectors is fragmented, leading to “duplication of efforts and resources, and is not expanding connectivity to uneconomic and underserved rural areas and townships.”

“It is therefore necessary for Government to facilitate the extension of optic fibre infrastructure for the benefit of all South Africans and other industry players through the establishment of an integrated national broadband network,” continued Minister Cwele.

The goal of SA Connect is to offer broadband access at 10 Mbps for all South Africans by 2030, and at 100 Mbps for 80% of the population that same year.

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