State signal distributor Sentech and Broadband Infraco — which is responsible for running more than 15,000km of fibre networks across the country — are to merge and establish a new state infrastructure company.

The government is accelerating its efforts to reduce communication costs, particularly the price of data — despite objections by major network operators. The state is keen to boost broadband penetration, and the release of additional spectrum will be key in this regard. It is finalising the licensing process, which it says will spur economic growth.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said on Thursday that her department is finalising the business case and awaiting certification from the state law adviser and the department of planning, monitoring & evaluation with regard to merging the two companies.

“We are further engaging our counterparts to ensure that non-broadband state-owned entities that self-provide broadband such as Sanral, the Passenger Rail Agency of SA, Eskom and Transnet are prohibited from entering the commercial broadband market so as to avoid the state distorting a well-functioning liberalised market,” the minister said.

The merger has been in the pipeline for five years as the government looks to create efficiencies within state-owned entities.

The department of communications will develop a new model for regulation, which will include the amalgamation of communications regulator the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa); the Film and Publication Board, which is the country’s content classification and regulation authority; and. ZADNA, the statutory regulator and manager of SA’s .za internet code.

Ndabeni-Abrahams said that after the release of the Competition Commission market inquiry report into mobile data services, the government is still engaging with mobile operators on the best ways to reduce costs of data without interfering with the work of the regulators.

She said the government will focus on bolstering efforts to build a “capable fourth industrial revolution army that has the requisite skills to respond”.

“The department has developed a digital skills strategy, which will be presented to cabinet for approval. A pilot programme has commenced with 1,000 students who are being trained on data science, software development, cybersecurity, 3D printing, drone piloting and digital content production,” she said.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za ​