South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Communications, Dina Pule opened the Broadband Policy Colloquium on 18 November at Gallagher Estate, Midrand.
Here is Minister Pule’s opening address:
This is an historic moment because if we apply ourselves diligently as a collective with collaborative synergy to evolve a Broadband Policy it would provide a conducive environment for socio-economic development of the country. It is therefore the objective of this policy to facilitate the provisioning of affordable access to broadband infrastructure to citizens, business and government; and also to stimulate the usage of broadband services at national, provincial and municipal levels. Therefore, this colloquium would have a broader impact on our country and its citizens in ways way beyond which we can ever imagine.
Broadband technology, like all other technological advancements, moves at a speed faster than the policies we develop and it is a fact of life that policy plays catch up to the technology.
But policy is critical because it provides, amongst other things, certainty for players in the market place, protect the rights of consumers, and provide the framework for future developments.
At present South Africa’s internet penetration is estimated around 10% and only a portion of these connections are provided via broadband technologies which are estimated around 2%. This statistic shows that there is still tremendous potential for growth in broadband penetration in South Africa. This presents both challenges and opportunities for us as a developing country.
It is admirable that the private sector has played a significant role in developing our existing broadband infrastructure to meet market demand.
While broadband penetration has increased over the last few years, there is still a noticeable difference in availability between the rural and urban areas of the country. To realise the socio-economic benefits of ICT services one needs to ensure that every citizen has access to broadband.
The Broadband policy seeks to address the current challenges and set the tone for the future. As such we have reached a very important stage in the development of Information and Communication technologies in South Africa. Widespread access to broadband services could transform our country and bring benefits to each and every citizen regardless of age, gender or disability.
Our quest to revolutionise our ICT sector by developing our broadband policy puts us in the company of countries like Australia, Uganda and Korea who are already successfully harnessing this powerful transformative force to the benefit of their citizens.
South Africa is committed to social upliftment by building an information society and bridging the digital divide. By increasing broadband penetration we are effectively including every citizen as part of the global village. It is essential that South Africa leverage more effectively its ICT capabilities to achieve universal access and our developmental goals.
This colloquium is a part of government’s commitment to address the broadband penetration challenges and opportunities by working in partnership with private enterprise, other stakeholders, and all citizens.
The Draft Broadband Policy is a work-in-progress in creating an environment where all South Africans can have access to affordable broadband. This policy draws on the best global broadband practices as well as look at our local needs and unique context and is required to ensure the goal of an all inclusive information society in both urban and rural areas.
Broadband enables many applications such as e-education, e-health, e-government, e-commerce, e-culture, and so forth.
Briefly, for example, e-education empowers students to self-tutor themselves on a 24/7 basis, freeing the time of teachers and educators to focus on other tasks. The power of this method of learning cannot be over emphasized; it will transform the way people learn and share ideas such as large scientific groups working together on a project globally. The successful integration of broadband as well as information and communication technologies into the learning environment and curriculum can ensure that our learners leave school on an equal footing with their international counterparts.
Another example is the way broadband has revolutionised the health services. For instance, patients can now be treated by a physician being present in another part of the country or the world.
One of the most important benefits of broadband is the ability for government to deliver services to its citizens electronically. E-government has the potential to bring government and its citizens closer together and it could increase government’s service delivery capacity. Broadband would enable the vision of government to be transformed into a single public service.
A recent study published by the International Telecommunications Union examined the influence of the global financial crisis on the ICT industry. This report concluded that while the global financial crisis will certainly influence the availability of capital for the expansion of networks, the ICT industry is likely to weather the storm with relatively little damage. ICTs are in this advantages position because it is not only a sector in its own right, but is a determinant for the success of other sectors.
Once again, I would like to remind you of the significance of this broadband policy colloquium and its historical importance in our thrust as a country to advance the frontiers of ICTs and e-connectivity.
Our reflections over the next two days to lay the foundation for a progressive broadband policy would contribute greatly to take our country to the very frontline of e-inclusivity for all our people. I have no doubt that we will succeed in the goals we are setting for ourselves to bring the benefits of broadband technology as a daily experience to all South Africans.
We are a winning nation and we need to work harder to turn our potential as a nation into a living reality for all our people. Together we can do more.
I pray that the next two days will be productive, collaborative, and synergistic as we grapple with the enormous and expanding frontier of broadband development.
God bless our efforts and may God make it possible for us to achieve the desired outcomes.