Pretoria — Broadband has the potential to transform rural economies to overcome many of the challenges of distance and isolation, says Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Speaking at the OR Tambo Broadband Project launch in Mhlontlo and King Sabata Dalindyebo municipalities in the Eastern Cape, the Deputy President said the project is of great significance for the country as a whole.
He said farmers are able to check the prices of the goods they produce almost anywhere in the world and to track weather patterns using information technology.
"Broadband provides them with information, access and choice. More than that, broadband creates the potential for the emergence of new industries in rural areas.
"In many of the sectors of the economy that are undergoing rapid change as a result of the fourth industrial revolution, it is possible to provide services to global clients from almost anywhere - be it Mumbai, Mombasa, Munich or Mhlontlo. Broadband provides opportunities to improve the provision of services to communities.
"Universal access to broadband is critical to inclusive economic growth," he said.
He said the launch of the project marks a milestone in government's efforts to ensure access by all communities in urban and rural settings to broadband internet and information technology.
"This is a priority for government because technology holds the key to economic freedom. Technology provides us with a powerful tool in our struggle to overcome the legacy of apartheid dispossession and exploitation, to address our skills deficit, to create jobs and to eradicate poverty."
Broadband rollout will facilitate the delivery of many government services digitally, and it will facilitate the expansion of e-government.
The Deputy President said broadband is being rolled-out first in schools and clinics, and that e-health solutions will be available at all the clinics, improving both productivity and the quality of care.
"We are only beginning to appreciate the massive potential of technology in improving the quality, affordability and outcomes of education."
He believes that with effective application, alongside a firm commitment to learning and teaching, information technology could trigger a skills revolution.
Boosting local employment
Local sub-contractors have been used for the installation of the network and will be used for further commercialisation and maintenance of the infrastructure beyond the launch.
"We were impressed to learn that [about] 15 SMMEs based in King Sabata Dalindyebo and Mhlontlo municipalities were trained and sub-contracted to install all the 609 sites. We must use the success of this project - and the lessons learnt here - to advocate for the acceleration of the national broadband roll-out programme."