SA ranks low in ICT infrastructure, affordability

South Africa is underperforming in terms of ICT infrastructure and affordability, according to new figures, adding weight to calls for the speedier rollout of broadband services across the country.

The country slipped to 91st in the ICT Development Index, which ranks ICT infrastructure and uptake, and ranks 98th in terms of the affordability of ICT services. The figures were contained in the “Measuring the Information Society 2012” report released by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

“It is of concern that South Africa is ranked as the fourth cheapest country in Africa for the provision of ICT services and that we have been overtaken by much poorer countries,” said Minister of Communications Dina Pule at a South African Communications Forum (SACF) event in Johannesburg yesterday.

“While the markets and conditions are different it is unfortunate that in Africa, Internet connectivity prices were almost seven times higher than in the Americas, and 20 times higher than Europe in 2011. We still have some way to go towards making affordable Internet access a reality for all South Africans.”

Yet the underperformance in the two sets of rankings will add further strength to calls for the South African government to do more in rollout fast affordable broadband to all by 2020, in line with its pledges to do so. MTN South Africa CEO Karel Pienaar, speaking at the 2012 MyBroadband Conference, said that R200 billion (US$22.8 billion) infrastructure investment would be required for South Africa to meet its targets and rank higher on indexes.

“We still have a long way to go on infrastructure,” he said.

Pule did confirm that a broadband strategy was in place and that the government was committed to its target. “I wish to set aside a day to discuss these with the industry before the end of the year,” she said. “We remain steadfast in achieving our target of 100 percent broadband penetration by 2020.”

She defended South Africa’s ICT infrastructure, saying in spite of the low rankings the country was still a leader in the sector and had a mobile penetration that exceeded 100 percent.

“Facts and figures notwithstanding, South Africa still maintains a leadership role on the African continent in terms of ICT development. On the back of a very successful ICT Indaba, last week I attended the Universal Postal Union’s (UPU) Congress in Doha, Qatar. The UPU regulates global postal services and is tasked with ensuring that the postal sector remains relevant in the digital age.

“The innovative use of ICT by the South African Post Office to geo-code addresses allows anyone with a GPS to find any home or business address. It is this type of creativity that has won us the approval of our African counterparts.”

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