Government will provide 10GB of free data to every South African household, similar to the allocation of basic municipal water and electricity services, communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has promised.
Indigent households qualify for 6,000 litres of water, 50kWh of electricity, and free sewerage and sanitation.
However, according to Ntshavheni, the 10GB basic data allocation will be given to all households regardless of income.
She did not provide timelines for the rollout of this basic data service.
“Data has become a new utility like water and electricity that our home needs,” Nthsavheni said at the joint State of the Nation debate at the City Hall in Cape Town on Tuesday.
“At some point, South Africa will say… despite whether you are rich or poor, whether you are employed or unemployed, [every household] have access to 10GB per month without failure because that’s what this government will deliver.”
In addition to promising a free basic data allocation, Ntshavheni said that the days of South Africa’s telecommunications operators shirking their universal service obligations are at an end.
Network operators hoping to get their hands on sought-after radio frequency spectrum will have three years to provide connectivity for schools, medical facilities, and traditional authorities.
Spectrum is the raw network capacity that allows mobile devices to communicate with cellular towers.
An auction for spectrum suitable for 4G and 5G networks is currently scheduled for 8 March 2022 — albeit with an axe hanging over it in the form of a High Court challenge brought by Telkom.
Six network operators are in line to bid on the spectrum: Cell C, MTN, Vodacom, Telkom, Rain, and Liquid.
According to Ntshavheni, these six operators will be required to provide connectivity to 18,520 schools, 5,731 clinics and hospitals, and 8,241 offices of traditional leaders or traditional authorities that hold certificates of recognition.
“The extension of broadband to traditional authorities is part of government’s commitment to strengthen the role of traditional leaders as service delivery centres of government,” Ntshavheni stated.
“In the past, we have seen the telecommunications operators ignoring social obligations and opting to pay negligible penalties instead of connecting our people,” she continued.
“This time around [industry regulator Icasa] will include the fulfilment of service obligations as part of the licensing conditions without an option of a penalty.”
Should networks fail to deliver on their social service obligations, their spectrum licence will be at risk.