Broadband for SA needs local tech….
The lack of IT skills in broadband development in government, especially those responsible for implementation of the new broadband policy in SA as well as technicians in the field, has become a major issue of debate in Parliament recently.
The department of telecommunications and postal services (DTPS) has increased it spend in consultancy services by nearly 400% in the last year according to its presentation documents to the relevant parliamentary portfolio committee.
Also, once again the rationale behind the splitting of the department of telecommunications and postal services (DTPS) away from the department of communications (DOC) was queried in Parliament as “not being in line with world trends” causing delays in implementation plans.
DTPS in long terms will benefit
Both these issues were responded to by the responsible minister, Dr Siyabonga Cwele, who was in attendance when DTPS presented their strategic and annual performance plans to the relevant portfolio committee.
Dr Cwele said that he was far happier to leave DOC concentrating on matters surrounding the SABC and migration to digital TV, leaving his department (DTPS) to pursue the objective of uplifting South Africa into the world of broadband.
Broadband will help all
This objective also fitted into the plan to re-model and reassess what was expected from the South African Post Office (SAPO) and for government to decide, like many other countries had done, where postal services fitted in and how to consolidate on the valuable rural outreach of SAPO in respect of other services required by poorer sections of the community.
What was clearly missing during the meeting was, according to parliamentarians, exact timelines for broadband introduction to schools, health services, government departments and state owned utilities, Dr Cwele being quite clear that DTPS had been mandated to ensure that affordable broadband was available.
Staff needed to do the job
Dr Cwele acknowledged, however, that DTPS was greatly under qualified to achieve this due to lack of technical skills and the department did not have enough capacity to deliver on its mandate, as this was a very technical sector of public services. It was too early to commit to timelines but at this stage they had to build the staff complement to do the job, he noted.
He said that DTPS had to bring highly skilled young people into the organisation considering the internet revolution and the growing need for national broadband services. “We need skills not expensive managers”, he added.
Technicians not paper creators
It was explained, in general, broadband refers to telecommunication in which a wide band of frequencies is available to transmit information at greatly increased speed, the installation of which should bring costs down, South Africa having some of the highest communication cost factors in the world.
Ms Rosey Sekese, DG, DTPS, in presenting her strategic plan, said her immediate priorities were:
• broadband connectivity focused on radio frequency spectrum
• cyber security
• the cost to communicate
• an Information Communication Technology (ICT) policy review
• a national e-strategy
• a turnaround plan for SAPO
The total budget allocation for the Department was R1.4 billion, a reduction from R2 billion in the previous financial year.
Opposition members wanted to know the criteria that DTPS had used to choose Telkom as the leading agency in the rollout of broadband and whether this was fair competition.
Also, they asked why DTPS had emphasised the roll-out of e-governance in the public service to meet NDP targets as first objective. Rather, they said, the focus should have been on business and industry, the ICT sector in the commerce and industry sectors needing this and who played a far greater role in economic development and job creation.
Telkom has to lead in this..
Minister Cwele responded that the selection of Telkom as the leading agency in the rollout of broadband was as a result of Telkom having the largest terrestrial fibre network and was also based on cost, as this was a state owned entity.
On business and industry needs, he also said DTPS needed to find a way to work with the private sector that could improve economic growth and he, the deputy minister and the DG had been in constant engagement with the private sector as it was realised that this was essential.
The department would also work together with the department of trade and industry and the department of small business development to create incentives for investment in SMMEs, as they realised that many small companies had been marginalised by slow internet services and limited access to the many international IT developments taking place and additional sea cable services.
He added that he was perfectly aware of the challenges in the finalisation of a spectrum policy to create a smooth path for the regulators and he was also aware of the need to create certainty in the telecommunications industry. He acknowledged that DTPS was following closely the experiences of the Western Cape and Gauteng broadband rollout plans.
The minister promised that all critical posts within DTPS would be filled within the next three months. However, opposition members continued to draw attention to the question of the general IT skills shortage and said it was yet another “crisis about to happen”.
DA’s Gordon Mackenzie noted “a dramatic increase in outsourced services from R52.5m in 2014 to R230m in 2015” and said this route only added to the high cost of communications in South Africa.
Other articles in this category or as background
Overhaul of broadband policy underway – ParlyReportSA
Parliament gets final dates for digital TV – ParlyReportSA
More state powers for ICASA proposed – ParlyReportSA