By APCNews MONTEVIDEO, 28 April 2009
South Africa is on the eve of a major broadband infrastructure roll-out. Affordable broadband can have a significant impact on the country’s socio-economic, political, cultural and educational development; but broadband penetration in South Africa lags behind countries with a similar level of development such as the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Turkey. This is due in part to the lack of a coherent policy framework to guide the development of broadband. The election of a new government on April 22 2009 provides an opportunity to look at the policy framework with fresh eyes and to consider the inter-related components needed to develop a coherent national broadband strategy. APC is building a coalition of civil society organisations and businesses to campaign for the lowering of costs associated with the internet in South Africa.
The project being carried out with the support of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa (PHEA) has mobilised internet service providers (ISPs), communications workers, content providers, academics, alternative energy experts, a number of civil society organisations and private sector associations to advocate for affordable broadband access for all South Africans. Together these interest groups identified the key components of a national broadband strategy, which were consolidated into a framework to be presented to the new government. On March 24 2009, coalition founders APC, South Africa Connect, SANGONeT and The Shuttleworth Foundation convened a one-day forum bringing together around eighty technology experts from business, civil society and government and presented an initial version of the draft framework for critique. A press release from APC summed up the mood.
Immediate support for campaign
A campaign site calling for “a comprehensive national broadband strategy for South Africa” went online on April 17 accepting signatures for support. Just ten days later more than 1,000 individuals and 120 organisations including many small and medium sized businesses had signed the petition. Press coverage has been wide and is collected on the campaign site.
The framework’s principal goal is that all South Africans should have affordable broadband access to the internet and that broadband should be considered an essential facility alongside other basic services such as water, sewerage and electricity, and access to the internet should be a public right. The framework also says that the needs of education, health, government services and small and medium enterprises should be prioritised, and incentives should be weighted for the construction of networks in under-serviced areas.
Indicators of progress which were proposed at the forum day are that by 2014 South Africa will:
- have broadband access in every town and village
- have the cheapest broadband access on the continent and
- be number one in terms of broadband penetration on the continent
Support the campaign
South Africans at home and abroad can sign the petition at :BroadBand4Africa.org.ZA and use the internet to encourage more signatories (eg through inviting people to join the campaign through facebook)
More reading: The BroadBand4Africa coalition explains what’s behind the South African campaign.