Written by Bradley Becker of Evotel

None challenging that fiber infrastructure is becoming a necessity for all households across South Africa. While large cities already have a broad fiber that reaches most of the inhabitants of these large cities, smaller provincial cities and towns lack this advanced technology.

Fiber is the newest and fastest way to connect users to the Internet. Everyone nowadays wants to be connected to the internet and needs to be connected because that is what life requires in today’s age. The Internet has changed the way we communicate and interact, shop, play, learn, run banks and more. The internet is present in everything we do.

So fiber, in fact, has become useful.

Without an Internet connection, people and communities remain in a deaf position and cannot actively participate in society. They cannot be fully integrated into modern society and, as a result, cannot contribute to South Africa’s economy as effectively as those who are connected.

Without a reliable and fast internet connection you may find it increasingly difficult to work, shop, turn to government services or make a significant contribution to the economy.

Utility to bridge the gap

There have been talks for decades about bridging the digital divide. Despite this, it has not yet been fully considered.

The President’s Economic Advisory Council said President Cyril Ramaphos should consider allocating fiber infrastructure as a municipal service to provide access to the country’s poorer and more rural areas. The Council noted that the digital divide will exacerbate inequality if investment is not encouraged to provide quality and fast internet for those without access.

Evotel agrees that fiber makes sense to be seen as utilities such as water and electricity, but not everyone in the country even has water and electricity. Can the government provide this utility or should the private sector take over?

As Evotel, we, however, welcome the fact that Ramaphosa in his address on the state of the country in 2022 stated that providing Internet access for all South Africans is a top priority.

The president said the government would “facilitate the rapid deployment of broadband infrastructure in all municipalities by establishing a standard model for issuing municipal permits.”

This is a big step in the right direction, as obtaining approval and unsubscribing from municipalities has been one of the main stumbling blocks for fiber network operators (FNOs).

Joint efforts by government and the private sector will be needed to ensure that fiber-based broadband is accessible to all. With well-defined guidelines and policies to support the initiative, this reality is quite achievable.

Policy making is the key to success

Part of the struggle is overcoming cases where people, in making decisions, give unfair preference to certain companies, giving them permission without merit over competitors.

This has become so widely recognized that FNOs wishing to build a network in some municipalities have to offer additional services and benefits to the municipality if they want to obtain a building permit.

It seems to be forgotten that FNOs pay the entire bill for the installation of network infrastructure. Municipalities, provincial governments or national governments do not fund this service.

It is therefore very important that the government pursues the right policies. By defining fiber as a municipal service and establishing a standard model for issuing municipal permits for fiber infrastructure, rural municipalities could also form public-private partnerships to provide fiber, especially in areas where the private sector does not find it profitable.

If the government establishes a standard model for issuing municipal permits and leave, it will provide a fair and competitive environment for network providers to practice their activities.

We believe that the government will benefit from inviting the FNO to the table when designing and developing this policy and guidelines

These reforms, indeed, as the President noted, will revolutionize the country’s technological development and make faster broadband access for more people. This is especially true in small towns, which tend to be ignored by large fiber suppliers.

Even though people crave fiber in their cities, they don’t want it if it means they have to fight without electricity, water and sanitation for a long period of time. This is a serious concern, and most FNOs agree with municipalities and residents on the potential damage that can be done to municipal services by digging trenches to install fiber infrastructure. Residents may be left without these services for days or even weeks, as municipalities do not have the funds for quick repairs.

Evotel suggests that in the process of developing government policy to think about solving this problem. Some municipalities have already introduced their own policies, such as requiring the FNO to pay an advance deposit, which will significantly speed up any repairs that may be required by municipal services. Municipalities will be allocated funds for these unforeseen events. If the government is developing a policy on a standard municipal permitting model, it should take this into account and make it a prerequisite for all fiber installation projects.

We believe that the government will benefit from inviting the FNO to the table when designing and developing this policy and guidelines.

Free fiber and more

In addition to home consumers, the need for schools to also have access to fiber for the development of tomorrow’s leaders, as Ramaphos also put it. He offered schools free access to fiber, and Evotel agreed.

For the past two years, we have already provided free fiber-optic access to schools covered by our network, through our school program. We can attest that all of the more than 50 schools we have already connected for free have significantly changed the lives of students. Not only students but also the schools themselves benefit, which raises tuition fees.

The government’s vision of giving every South African family 10 GB of free data a month to access the Internet is a great idea, but is it possible? The concept is noble. However, the needs of the average Internet user go beyond the basic personal administrator, which will help 10 GB. Evotel and our competitors provide fast and stable service to every user with unlimited speeds capable of much more than 10 GB can provide. However, providing this data to those who need it can greatly improve their quality of life with access to information, banking and many apps that help make purchases that don’t require a lot of data.

Fiber is for everyone

This may come as a surprise to many, but South Africa is not the only country struggling to provide fiber for its citizens. Developed countries such as the US and the UK are also trying to connect people in rural areas.

Evotel, according to our slogan, stands for “fiber for all”. We believe that for the development of our country and the recovery of our economy, every resident of South Africa must have access to fast and reliable fiber Internet. Our mission remains to provide this infrastructure to communities that are often ignored – hopefully hand in hand with all areas of government as policy leaders.

  • The author, Bradley Becker, is the brand manager at Evotel
  • This advertised content was paid for by the interested party

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