Speaking at the Broadband Summit in Johannesburg, Karel Matthee, research group leader for trusted network infrastructures and services at CSIR Meraka Institute, spoke about the lack of rural connectivity across South Africa, calling on the government to act to improve access to broadband services.
Given the costly nature of traditional broadband infrastructure, Matthee highlighted that many rural schools, medical clinics, businesses and citizens are simply left without any options for internet access.
“We consider this to be a market failure,” Matthee said. “Government intervention is required.”
Turning to the plight of the education system in the country, Matthee noted that of 26,500 public schools across South Africa, 17,000 are considered to fall into the “rural” category.
“What is sad, is that most of these schools are outside the coverage maps of operators,” said Matthee, adding that the schools do not have 3G, LTE, ADSL or fibre coverage, nor are there plans to roll-out any coverage.
“We need to provide [these schools] with these learning resources,” he argued.
Examining the guidance of the World Bank for possible methods of government intervention, Matthee concluded that the government should provide investment to improve high-speed networks, should ensure that services rolled-out are made widely available and that applications are accessible to the population. And importantly, that services are affordable.
Meanwhile, CSIR has launched its own initiative to connect rural communities, through the project known as Broadband for Africa, sponsored by the South African Department for Science and Technology.
CSIR has built a broadband backbone through certain rural areas, and has enable schools, clinics and businesses to connect through mesh cluster technologies. Furthermore, the organisation provides training and mentoring to so-called “village operators”, who run broadband connection point and help communities utilise the infrastructure.
To date, 207 schools and offices have been connected through the project, and access to the internet has been provided for 97,500 learners.