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SANRAL is making it hard to roll out fibre in South Africa – FTTx Council

Despite significant progress in the roll-out of fibre networks to homes and businesses around South Africa, the local industry still faces tremendous obstacles.

Juanita Clark, the co-founder and CEO of FTTx Council Africa, said that these obstacles generally involve access to land and infrastructure. If these barriers could be overcome, then it would make it much cheaper and faster for network operators to deploy fibre.

Speaking at an Absa Insights event which was a collaboration between the FTTx Council and Digitalthings, Clarke highlighted three key hurdles that fibre network operators still face:

“We need to make some serious decisions about our future,” Clark said.

“We all need to make a mental decision to create an industry that is sustainable, that is based on standards, that will survive for future generations long after we are gone.”

It was interesting to hear that network infrastructure providers in South Africa are still complaining about these three key issues, which have been obstacles since fibre was still in its infancy in South Africa.

In spite of the challenging circumstances, fibre companies in South Africa have made it work. Telkom’s wholesale and networking division, Openserve, no longer dominates the fixed-line access space in South Africa.

Private network operators serve more FTTH clients than Openserve and, as of March 2019, Vumatel has overtaken Openserve as the FTTH network which reaches the most homes in South Africa.

The SANRAL obstacle

While Telkom’s competitors have enjoyed success in spite of the challenging environment they do business in, they continue to call for regulatory improvements. They argue that this will not only allow them to connect South Africa with fibre more quickly, but also reduce prices.

Something as simple as being allowed to cross a highway using one of SANRAL’s bridges could help reduce the time and cost of deploying fibre in South Africa.

Clark’s statements echoes one from André Hoffmann in 2015. Nowadays Hoffman is an independent ICT consultant, but back then he was the executive in charge of planning and product development at Link Africa.

“National government, in promulgating the Electronic Communication Act of 2005, made it clear that the task of deploying broadband is one for national government. It then granted licenses to several hundred private sector firms to execute on this mandate,” said Hoffmann.

Despite what he saw as a straightforward mandate given to network operators by national government, there seemed to be a lot of interference by local government and other organs of state such as SANRAL and PRASA.

“These organs of state should enable licensees to fulfil their mandates through speedy processing of applications to enter their land—rights that the Act grants licensees—but these parties do not process applications and in many cases, obstruct access to their land,” he said.

“Something as simple as crossing a national highway using an existing SANRAL bridge can be made impossible by convoluted legal instruments so as to force operators to drill at great additional cost and risk alternative pipes to reach the broadband market.”

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