Radio Spectrum Auction A Catalyst For Digital Development


By Vivian Omotori

President Cyril Ramaphosa says the recently concluded auction of high demand radio frequency spectrum in South Africa will be catalytic for not only bridging the digital divide for those still without internet access, but also for the growth of the economy and development.

Radio spectrum is used by mobile networks, television, radio stations and other industries to transmit sound, videos, data and images through radio frequencies.

The auction was concluded on Friday last week, netting government some R14.4 billion(US$1.24billion) in income and paving the way for faster internet, cheaper connectivity and the rollout of 5G internet in the country.

“We are determined that South Africa must not be left behind by the digital economy, just as we are determined that no community and no person should be left behind in experiencing the vast benefits of being digitally connected to the world.

“The licensing of spectrum is one of the major reforms that we are implementing to modernise and transform key network industries such as energy, telecommunications, transport and water provision,” President Ramaphosa said.

The President said the auction has already created new “opportunities for investment in electricity generation, freight rail and ports”.

He said while key industries are expected to benefit from the availability of more spectrum, ordinary members of society will not be left behind.

“The licensing of this new spectrum will be accompanied by agreed social obligations to connect public schools, health facilities and police stations over the next three years. Like the mineral wealth that lies beneath our soil, radio spectrum is a valuable national resource that needs to be used for the benefit of all South Africans,” he said.

The President emphasised that this increased digital access is “critical” for the growth of the economy which continues to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Cheaper data means that young people will have greater access to digital platforms to seek job opportunities online. Students will be able to access information and educational materials. Entrepreneurs will be able to start businesses and reach new markets.

“Equally, the availability of this spectrum will contribute to economic transformation. It will allow many more people, especially those from remote areas and poor communities, to access digital resources and will improve their ability to participate in economic activity,” President Ramaphosa said.

According to President Ramaphosa, government’s digital migration plan – which paves the way for all South African households to switch to digital television – is expected to also contribute a “major leap forward” in South Africa’s drive towards technological development.

“Over the last year, the process of switching from analogue to digital broadcasting has gathered pace and will soon be completed.

“Digital migration will also free up valuable radio frequency spectrum currently used by broadcasters to be used in the provision of mobile broadband services and other applications. The switch to digital improves the TV watching experience, with many more channels and better quality picture and sound,” he said.

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