Fibre: The New Utility
There is no dispute that the need for fibre infrastructure is becoming a necessity for all households across South Africa. Whilst major metropoles already have extensive fibre laid – reaching most of the residents in these large cities – the smaller provincial towns and townships are lacking this advanced technology.
Fibre is the latest and fastest way to connect users to the internet. Everyone, these days, wants to be connected to the internet and should be, because that is what living in the modern age requires. The internet has changed the way we communicate and interact, shop, play, learn, do our banking and so much more. Almost every aspect of life is in some way or form impacted by the internet. It is present in everything we do. It is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s essential. Life has become digital and you can’t not embrace it.
The internet has become the basis of almost everything in life today. It has, in essence, become a utility. Without an internet connection people and communities are left stranded and unable to actively participate in society. They can’t be fully included in modern society and, as a result, can’t contribute to the South African economy as effectively as others.
Without a reliable and fast internet connection you are unable to work, shop online, reach government services, contribute to the country’s economy, just to name a few things. The multitude of benefits the internet has to offer is lost to you.
A utility to bridge the divide
For decades there has been talk about bridging the digital divide – the problem of a lack of accessibility, affordability, and digital skills that touch on the social economics, infrastructure, and technology between the haves and have-nots. Despite this, the digital divide is still an issue being grappled with today and has not been fully addressed.
The Presidential Economic Advisory Council briefed the president on the issue of fibre infrastructure and said that the president should consider designating the provision of fibre infrastructure as a municipal service to ensure poorer and more rural parts of the country get access. The council also noted that the digital divide will exacerbate inequality in the country if the investment isn’t encouraged to bring high-quality fast internet to those without access.
Evotel agrees that it makes sense to consider fibre a utility, like water and electricity, but also highlights that not everyone in the country even has water and electricity yet. Can the government provide this utility or is it up to the private sector to take this one on themselves?
As Evotel, we are nonetheless welcoming the idea and the fact that in his 2022 State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed that supplying internet access to all South Africans is of extreme importance. His mentioning it in his address to the nation hopefully means that the government is serious and isn’t just giving it credence.
President Ramaphosa, in his address, said that the government will “facilitate the rapid deployment of broadband infrastructure across all municipalities by establishing a standard model for the granting of municipal permissions.”
This is a huge step in the right direction, as this has been one of the major stumbling blocks for FNOs – to get approval and wayleaves from municipalities to build fibre infrastructures in small towns.
Ensuring fibre broadband is available to all will take a joint effort from the government and the private sector to become a reality. With clearly set guidelines and policies to support the initiative that reality is entirely achievable.
Policymaking key to success
Part of the battle is overcoming cases where people making decisions are giving unfair preference to certain companies, granting them approvals without merit over other competitors.
It has become so widely accepted that FNOs wanting to build a network in some municipalities has to offer additional services and benefits to the municipality if they are to stand a chance of getting approval to erect their much needed fibre network.
It seems to be forgotten that the fibre network provider foots the entire bill for installing the network infrastructure themselves. There is no funding provided for this service by local municipalities, provincial governments or the national government at all.
It is, therefore, of utmost importance that government puts the right policies in place for this to come to fruition.
By designating fibre as a municipal service and establishing a standard model for the granting of municipal permissions to build fibre infrastructures, rural district municipalities could also form public-private partnerships for the provision of fibre, especially in areas where the private sector doesn’t find it profitable.
For the government to establish a standard model for the granting of municipal permissions and wayleaves will provide a fair competitive environment for network providers to practice their trade.
These reforms will indeed, as the President stated, revolutionise the country’s technological development and make faster broadband more accessible to a wider public. This is especially true in areas, such as in provincial small towns that has generally been neglected by large fibre providers.
Although people are yearning for fibre in their towns, they do not want it if it means they will have to struggle being without electricity, water and sewage for long periods of time.
This is a valid concern and most FNOs agree with municipalities and residents on the issue of the potential damage that might occur to municipal services as a result of trenching to install the fibre infrastructure. Residents can be left without these services for days or even weeks, as municipalities don’t have the funds for quick repairs.
We suggest that within the government’s policymaking process, thought be given to address this municipal infrastructure damage concern. Some municipalities have already instituted their own policies, such as demanding FNOs to pay an upfront Damage Deposit, which will considerably fast tracks any repairs municipal services may require. Municipalities will have dedicated funds set aside for these unforeseen occurrences. When the government is making policy regarding a standard model for the granting of municipal permissions, it should take this into account and make it a pre-requisite for all fibre installation projects.
We believe that the government will only benefit from having FNOs at the table when developing and drawing up these policies and guidelines.
Free fibre and more
Apart from home consumers the need for schools to also have access to fibre for the development of the leaders of tomorrow is, as President Ramaphosa also expressed, a necessity. He has proposed that schools be given free access to fibre and Evotel once again agrees with this notion.
We have for the past two years already provided free fibre access to schools that fall under our network coverage through our Schools Programme. We can testify that all of the over 50 schools we have already provided free fibre to all indicate that it has made a significant difference in the lives of learners. Not only do the learners benefit, but the schools themselves benefit as well – upping their education ante.
The government’s vision of providing each South African household with 10GB of free data a month to access the internet is an admirable thought, but is it feasible?
As a whole, the concept is noble. However, the average needs of the average internet user extend beyond basic personal admin that the 10GBs will assist with. Evotel and our competitors provide a fast and stable service to each user at an uncapped rate capable of much more than what 10GBs can provide. That being said, providing that data to those who need it can vastly improve their quality of life with access to information, banking and many apps that help with shopping that are not data intensive.
Fibre is for everyone
It might surprise many, but South Africa is not the only country that is grappling with providing fibre connectivity to its citizens. First world countries such as the USA and the UK, are also struggling to connect people in rural communities to fibre. You can rest assured that we are not alone in this fight.
Evotel, as our slogan states, stands for “Fibre for Everyone”. It is our belief that for the development of our nation and the recovery of our economy, every single South African should have access to fast and reliable fibre internet. It remains our mission to provide this infrastructure to communities that are often overlooked – hopefully, hand-in-hand with all spheres of government as the policymakers.