The broadband connectivity to various critical health centres is moving ahead swiftly, with 26 sites connected early in August. The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies has established public and private partnerships to provide fast broadband internet connectivity to approximately 480 COVID-19 mission critical health centres across the country at no cost.

According to the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, this fast connectivity (10MB per second) will enable remote health facilities to transfer patient files and carry out statistical reporting and medical analysis, and consult quickly and effectively. It will also support critical health centres in enhancing the patient experience of care, quality, access and reliability.

Brokered by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Technologies, the partnership is their effort to assist government in meeting the key objective of slowing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Part of COVID-19 interventions

In response to direction by the Minister, the regulatory body ICASA (Independent Communications Authority of SA), assigned temporary radio frequency spectrum to mobile network operators. This is to ensure that all citizens are able to access ICT services and government programmes and have the necessary information to protect themselves against the pandemic.

“I firmly believe that the increased access to information is at the heart of our department’s direction. The realities of inequality are such that not everyone can simply move online. All successful licensees for temporary IMT spectrum assignments are required to support and create virtual teaching and classrooms as determined by the Department, in alignment with the Department of Basic Education,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

The companies have approved hundreds of local websites to be zero-rated for educational purposes while South Africa deals with the pandemic. The zero-rated websites include, among others, TVET colleges, universities, basic education sites as well as sites that provide information which can help South Africans mitigate the risks that come with COVID-19.

Additional sites will be zero-rated

In addition to the 990 sites, which are already zero-rated, there are additional sites which are pending approval. Zero-rating of telecommunications and data services for specified public services like health, education and public service pronouncements is an important intervention to empower society and the youth, in particular.

“We appreciate the good gestures from the mobile network operators, but I believe together more can be done,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

“The coronavirus pandemic has not only put a sharp focus on the ICT sector, it has also has accelerated the digitalization of many businesses and services, and introduced teleworking and video conferencing systems in and out of the workplace.

“I believe, COVID-19 provides an opportunity for affordable ICT infrastructure and digital technology solutions such as Artificial Intelligence, high performance computing, robotics and the Internet of Things, to be explored,” she added.

Meanwhile, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs to facilitate the temporary rapid deployment of electronic communications and facilities within municipalities across the country.

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