Broadband in South Africa

Or why SA will never become a first world country

As at 09 August 2005

Devolution South Africa is in big trouble. Sure, ADSL is available, but when the service starts off with a 512k option, and every new option's speed actually decreases (first to 384k and then to 192k), you know that the future is not going to be rose coloured.

Only 3 Gigabytes Then there's the bandwidth capacity restrictions. Up until recently, users were restricted to 3 gigabytes, up- and down-stream combined, per month. If you wanted more, you had to buy another account. ISPs have recently started selling accounts of up to 30 gigabytes, but they're not allowed to sell bigger accounts...and apparently this is only temporary.

Double Rental Another thing quite unique to South-Africa is that broadband users get slammed with double rental. You not only pay your ISP for an access account. You pay "line rental" to the telecomms provider as well. It's not really line rental, though, as you pay that anyway, whether you have ADSL or not. No, you have to pay to keep your telephone line ADSL-enabled. If you don't you go back to having a normal analogue line.

Why is this happening? It's called monopoly. South Africa is one of the few countries left with only one Telecommunications provider. Talks of a Second Network Operator have been in the news for a while now. More than five years, to be exact. If you only have one choice, what can you do?

The company responsible for this is Telkom South Africa.

What does the future hold? No one is sure at the moment. The communications regulator, ICASA, has released a report that recommends Telkom to get rid of the line rental and capacity restrictions. This has caused an uproar.

A few things may happen:

  1. Telkom has threatened to stop its ADSL service - this will be catastrophic for the South African IT industry as well as the battle in crossing the digital divide.
  2. Pricing structure will change. Instead of paying a fixed fee per month, as is the case at the moment, users will be charged line rental, as well as per gigabyte. This will also have disastrous consequences. Numerous users talk of canceling their ADSL if this happens.
  3. On the positive side, things may change for the better. Telkom may be forced to drop the line rental and capacity restrictions. South Africa may just catch up to the rest of the world with regards to broadband.

For the welfare of the country Hopefully fairness will prevail and true broadband will become a reality to South Africans. If not, it will stay stuck somewhere between a third-world and first-world country for quite a while.

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