Cognisant of the economic and social growth that affordable broadband could bring their constituents, South African municipalities are preparing to extend their communication networks to the people. But is it legal? TIRED OF WAITING for the costs of broadband access to decrease to affordable rates, the cities of Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, Knysna, Cape Town and eThekwini are well on their way to self-providing their telecommunications. The next step, they say, is to extend the cost and economic values of reasonably priced Internet access - and perhaps low-cost voice calls, too - to their constituencies.

Opening this year`s BMI-Tech-Knowledge (BMI-T) Digital Cities Forum on behalf of Deputy Minister of Communications Roy Padayachie, the ministry`s director of Space Applications and Satellite Communication, Elliot Sibeko, told delegates that Padayachie believes that the "big dream" of the economic benefits and value of broadband in SA`s cities and municipalities is being born.

Reading Padayachie`s prepared statement, Sibeko explained: "We are seeing, more and more, that citywide broadband networks, initially for own use and thereafter as a service to the community, have increasingly been deployed in cities such as Johannesburg, Tshwane, Cape Town, eThekwini, Ekurhuleni, Knysna and others."


By all accounts, Padayachie appears to be correct. The cities presenting at the forum are in advanced stages of metropolitan area network (MAN) roll-outs.

Charles Kuun, Tshwane Global Digital Hub manager for the City of Tshwane, says that it now has "true" broadband capacity on its MAN, with services to communities now possible.

Likewise, Douglas Gelderbloem, infrastructure manager for the City of Cape Town, says it has issued a tender for telecommunication services, including an option to build a city network, which will enable it to reach its goal of high-speed Internet connectivity provided as a basic infrastructural service to all residents by 2010. Ekurhuleni Metro`s infrastructure director Andrew Mphushomadi says that it is currently the largest VOIP and IP telephony public sector deployment in South Africa. It took just six months to install its broadband wireless network and plans to roll out a Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) network next year.

eThekwini Municipality, in the meantime, is busy with a project that will see fibre rolled out to every entity of the municipality and its partners, according to Raj Dhavraj, senior ICT engineer for the region.

The is also in the implementation and testing phase of its wireless broadband network, says Herklaas du Plessis, deputy director of IT: communication technologies, and is now looking at commercialising its offerings.

Most impressive, though, is the Municipality of Knysna, which has not only rolled out its communication infrastructure but has already started offering services to its citizens. Knysna CFO Grant Easton says that the municipality has partnered with Uni-Fi to provide affordable broadband not only for its own uses, but for those of its community.


The execution of these projects has brought considerable savings to the regions: Tshwane recouped its costs within a year; Cape Town is saving R40 million per annum; Ekurhuleni achieved "payback" within four months; and Knysna expects to save R5 million over five years.

Nevertheless, BMI-T MD says that international research points to greater benefits.

"A study by the Irish government showed that 1% broadband investment induced a seven times multiplier through GDP growth. An study in the European Union revealed a cost to benefit ratio of broadband investment of 1.69 - a 70% direct economic gain - for `built-up hi-density` regions. In "rural" communities the ratio showed a 32% direct economic improvement."


Cognisant of the broad-based impact that broadband can bring to their respective communities, the municipalities are now focusing on extending MAN access to the people. Because the telecom incumbents, they say, are more interested in profit than making the Internet accessible to all.

From pointedly naming to encouraging delegates to name the fixed-line operator on their behalf, city officials spoke of the high cost of Internet access and international bandwidth in South Africa.

Kuun provided illustrative comparisons of its expected offerings compared to the prices offered by wireless, fixed- line and mobile providers, and Cape Town`s Gelderbloem accused Telkom of only aiming to profiteer off of communities.

"Despite their assurances to the contrary, [telcos] have no commitment to delivering services to the poorest. Municipalities, on the other hand, have this as a constitutional mandate, and are better placed to deliver," he added.

Not only that, but Telkom had repeatedly proven itself to be ineffective in its response to problems, said Ekurhuleni`s Mphushomadi: "It takes a day and forever for Telkom to fix problems on lines. It takes us less than a day."

Nevertheless, lawyer warns metros that while self-providing may be understood to be legal, it has not yet been established whether will allow licences to on-sell. Until such time as it does, investments in additional capacity may turn out to be superfluous.