Thursday, 19 December 2019

Pretoria: Government is engaging with mobile operators on the best ways to reduce the high cost of data without interfering with the work of regulators, says Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

Government’s efforts follow the release of the Competition Commission’s market inquiry report into mobile data services, which found that South Africa’s data prices are excessively high.

The Minister said the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has issued an Information Memorandum on the licensing process for International Mobile Telecommunications Spectrum, which gives an opportunity for submissions to be made by 31 January 2020.

The release of high demand spectrum is an important step that gives effect to government’s policy objectives of ensuring broadband access for all, transformation of the information and communications technology (ICT) sector, reduction of costs to communicate (particularly data costs), promotion of competition in the ICT sector and stimulation of inclusive economic growth.

Ndabeni-Abrahams on Thursday gave an update on the department’s key priorities, portfolio changes and institutional capacity building across the department and its entities.

Fast-tracking digital migration

In an effort to fast-track the rollout of Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM), Cabinet has approved a delivery model that will see the direct appointment of local decoder installers, who are qualified and accredited.

At the media briefing held at the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) in Tshwane, the Minister also announced the appointment of an administrator for the implementation of the revised BDM model.

“The second phase thereof will include the rollout of [Integrated Digital Televisions] IDTVs. To ensure the success of the project, the department is exploring alternative funding options.

“For the successful implementation of the revised BDM model, an administrator has been appointed at the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) — Mr Newyear Niniva Ntuli for a period of 24 months,” Ndabeni-Abrahams said.

Digital Transformation Plan and Digital Skills Strategy

On digitising government, the Minister said the Digital Transformation Plan requires an audit of current government information technology spend and interventions in order to identify priorities related to improving the ease of doing business and the provision of crucial services to the citizens.

“In this respect, we will be repurposing the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) as a new digital transformation agency to drive digitalisation, innovation, localisation and supporting a capable state. We have appointed an Administrator, Mr Luvuyo Keyise, to lead the process for a 24-month period,” she said.

Government will further bolster efforts to build a capable Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) army that has the requisite skills to respond to the 4IR.

“To this end, the department has developed a Digital Skills Strategy that will be presented to Cabinet for approval. A pilot programme has commenced with 1 000 students, who are being trained on data science, software development, cybersecurity, 3D printing, drone piloting and digital content production,” said the Minister.

Post Office, Commission on 4IR developments

Meanwhile, the South African Post Office (SAPO) is in the process of implementing its turnaround strategy, which focuses on several key interventions including the launch of its e-commerce platform.

SAPO is also in the process of finalising Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with the Post Bank in terms of the operational relationship going forward, following the separation of the two entities.

In addition, the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution has presented a draft report to President Cyril Ramaphosa and is on track to submit the final report in January 2020 for publication in February.

The commission was established to assist government with taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the digital industrial revolution.

“The department is currently finalising the business case and awaiting certification from the State Law Advisor and the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation with regards to repurposing SITA to create a State IT Company; as well as merging Sentech and Broadband Infraco (BBI) to form the State Digital Infrastructure Company.

“We are further engaging our counterparts to ensure that non-broadband State-owned entities that self-provide broadband such as Sanral, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, Eskom and Transnet are prohibited from entering the commercial broadband market to avoid the State distorting a well-functioning liberalised market,” the Minister said.

The department will also accelerate the repurposing of the Universal Service Fund into a 4IR fund.