Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana.

Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana said on Friday that South Africa could see cheaper and more stable digital telecommunications.

Godongwana has provided details of key government projects being supported under Operation Vulindlela, saying affordable connectivity is on track after the government completed the auction of high-demand spectrum.

This, he said, would allow significant new investment in the telecommunications sector, including the deployment of 5G networks.

Operation Vulindlela is a joint initiative of the Presidency and the National Treasury to rapidly implement structural economic reforms to unlock economic growth.

It was established in October 2020 to accelerate structural reforms in five areas: energy, digital communications, water, transport and visa reform.

Since 2016, South Africans have been complaining about the high cost of data through the social media banner #DataMustFall. This task, the minister said, will now be solved at the expense of new investments as a result of spectrum allocation.

“In digital telecommunications, cheaper and better communication is expected. The high-demand spectrum auction has been completed and analogue switch-off has already been completed in five provinces,” he said.

Regarding the switch-off of analogue transmission, which was supposed to be completed by the end of March but was postponed by the High Court order to June 30, the minister said that a new date for switching off the analogue signal would be notified.

“The government remains committed to completing digital migration as soon as possible to free up low-frequency spectrum. The government intends to provide a subsidized set-top box to all low-income families who have not yet moved, and to switch it off completely in the rest of the provinces.

“The Department for Communications and Digital Technologies will shortly announce a new analogue switch-off date following consultation with stakeholders in the sector.”

To facilitate faster deployment of telecommunications infrastructure, Godongwana said the Rapid Deployment Policy and Policy Direction have been finalized for Cabinet approval.

“We expect the standard draft vacation permit bylaws to be adopted for distribution to municipalities by October 2022.”

The minister’s connectivity upgrade comes amid President Cyril Ramaphosa’s growing desire to develop new models to provide affordable high-speed internet to low-income households.

With South Africa’s unemployment rate now reportedly among the highest in the world, Ramaphosa wants more people to participate in the burgeoning digital economy, and thus the need to speed up affordable connectivity.

“This is about connecting every corner of South Africa to the digital age. We are talking about a rural community in Limpopo or the Eastern Cape where farmers can monitor the weather across the province and sell their produce around the world. It’s about a businesswoman with a great idea that she hopes to sell to the supply chains of large companies,” the president said recently.

Addressing the power outage, Gadongwana said improvements in Eskom’s power availability ratio are on track.

The report on Operation Vulindlela said additional capacity would be available in the short term by allowing existing independent power producers (IPPs) to sell surplus power to Eskom.

“This involves amending contracts with existing IPPs from previous application windows to allow them to sell additional capacity. In addition, Eskom will source power from existing private generators, such as mining companies and shopping centres, who have installed solar panels and can supply excess power to the grid, as part of the standard offer.”

It added that the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy is working closely with Eskom to ensure that the necessary permits are withdrawn or granted to use this approach.

In addition, the report says, climate finance provided under the Just Energy Transition Partnership will be used to invest in the grid and repurpose decommissioned power plants.

“The first solar and battery projects at Komati, Majuba, Lethab and several other power plants will add more than 500 MW to the system.”

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