THE Department of Communications on Tuesday unveiled a revised broadband policy, which it hopes will garner Cabinet approval by March, to help plug “broadband gaps” across the country and achieve its Vision 2020 target.

The policy, approved in 2010, was revised after the department found it did not have adequate provisions to support the target — 100% broadband penetration by 2020 — as agreed with the telecommunications industry.

Some of the problems identified were the definition of broadband, which had to be reworked owing to the emergence of new technologies, and the incorporation of other government policies mostly drafted after Cabinet approval of the old broadband policy.

At a workshop to discuss the draft policy with stakeholders, Communications Minister Dina Pule identified government, schools and health centres as priority areas to be addressed by the policy, describing providing connectivity to these as “critical”.

“Needy persons and under-serviced areas should be identified and defined,” said Ms Pule.

“Our interventions must place time-frames on when such people and places will be provided with services.”

In a presentation at the workshop, the department’s Norman Munzhelele said it has mapped the location of South Africa’s schools, which number 25754, health facilities (3973) and police stations (1121) to see if the areas they are located in have some kind of broadband coverage.

“The mapping showed that, as of mid 2012, 74% of schools, 81% facilities and 83% of police stations can be said to have some form of broadband coverage, excluding satellite,” said Mr Munzhelele. “The situation across the country varies, with the largest broadband gaps being observed in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.”

However, the department found the actual number of institutions taking up broadband services is far lower, with affordability being the main barrier.

A recent report by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation found 25.5-million South Africans still live beyond a 10km reach of an operational fibre node, one of the many technologies through which broadband is delivered.

More than 4-million people are beyond a 25km reach and 326,759 beyond a 50km reach of an operational fibre-optic node.

* This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times