PREMIER'S PERSPECTIVE: Broadband a powerful tool

People use the internet to maintain family connections and distant friendships, to empower themselves and learn, to manage their businesses, or just to unwind reading the news from around the globe.

The basics of economic opportunity now live online. Whether applying for jobs or doing school homework, more and more of our personal growth requires internet literacy and access.

Access to broadband is the most critical gateway technology to the information age. The ways in which people work, create companies, learn and access entertainment are forever changed by this technology.

Indeed, the internet has become an assumed part of a good life. The Eastern Cape government regards the development of a robust and affordable high speed telecommunications infrastructure as a priority. That is why we have developed a strategy for the rollout of broadband across the province.

The core part of our strategy is to lead in the data and broadband rollout. The roll-out began in the village of Tsolo in the King Sabata Dalindyebo district recently.

Learners and communities around Tsolo now enjoy access to WiFi connectivity, thanks to the broadband roll-out project by the Department of Telecommunications and the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA.

The timeous launch of this pilot indicates the focused execution of our strategy. Internet connectivity provides learners and young people around Tsolo with free access to educational websites, as well as general information on bursaries and job opportunities.

As we expand the reach of high-speed internet to more and more everyday activities across the province in the months ahead, we are laying the groundwork for all-new ways for people to connect.

The practical benefits from investing in the internet are well-known. Throughout our province, especially in the far-flung rural areas, an expanding internet creates internal jobs in infrastructure, education and maintenance, but it also allows for telecommuting and online education and access to global digital marketplaces.

The more people are connected to the internet, the more it spurs innovation. The more access to information you have, and are able to share that information, the more innovation will happen and the more growth and economic stability will be established in our economies and province.

Indeed, broadband is a powerful economic development tool. Expanding service will allow existing business to grow, new business to form and encourage innovation.

Strengthening our province’s broadband network will give our communities one of the most necessary tools for competing and succeeding in today's global economy. And as today's economy changes, so will the needs of this nation's entrepreneurs.

Expanding the economic benefits of broadband is one way to help our farmers and rural small businesses increase the efficiency of their operations and, in turn, support economic growth.

As our farmers become more tech-savvy, they will unlock high-speed internet technologies that enable innovations such as remote temperature monitoring which has helped control costs and optimise production.

I know many rural communities across the country are struggling to remain competitive. By unlocking and harnessing new technologies we can create new opportunities and improve the way we do business.

As broadband reaches more areas of the province, rural and agriculture-based communities will be able to search for better ways to maximise their local economic development potential.

Indeed across the globe, broadband technologies have proven to be a key component for the growth and prosperity of rural communities, facilitating partnerships, creating online infrastructure and expanding markets for goods and services.

Broadband can also be instrumental in creating networks of entrepreneurs that can increase employment and spur additional investment.

It is a pity that for most of our province, the broadband revolution is just beginning. Broadband technology has the potential to facilitate dramatic improvements in educational offerings and health-care delivery, and the National Health Insurance (NHI).

Our latest broadband project is primarily part of the NHI rollout pilot project, whereby public health facilities are digitised through internet connectivity.

Also, the creation of the managed broadband network for schools across our province has the potential to develop into a dynamic educational infrastructure.

Education can be transformed by enabling schools, libraries, tertiary institutions and local communities to collaborate on the learning programmes of the future.

For people working in education, the benefits are considerable. By sending homework over telecoms lines, children can get education over broadband links.

If our province and country is to truly become part of the global economy, limited or no connectivity challenges must be resolved. Broadband technology will eventually enable our remote areas to overcome many of the challenges they have historically faced such as access to top-flight teachers for learners; gaining access to enhanced health-care services and access to top-flight cultural and entertainment opportunities.

Phumulo Masualle is premier of the Eastern Cape. Follow him on Twitter on EC_Premier


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