The 2020 lockdowns have fundamentally changed the way business operates with new operational models allowing remote working. Broadband connectivity is essential to achieve this and allow remote access in real time. It provides economic and social benefit and should increasingly be considered as part of delivering public services to communities.
In order for citizens to take advantage of new technology platforms and solutions that can be provided, it is necessary to have sufficient connectivity. There are major socio-economic benefits to broadband investment. Frost & Sullivan has recently undertaken a study on the socio-economic benefits of broadband investment to the local economy in South Africa. Focus was placed on various segments in the socio-economic landscape that impact both citizens and also business. These included health, education, energy, water, manufacturing, tourism, agriculture, business services and public services.
New advancements in technology is also driving the need for connectivity to promote economic growth. With the 4th industrial revolution we are witnessing increased adoption of technology into manufacturing allowing greater control, real time access/tracking to allow greater efficiency and minimise down time, with predictive analysis.
Some of the key learnings from the lockdown are summarised below:
Many independent school learners were supported through remote learning solutions, using tablets, smartphones or computers. This required connectivity and brought about a disparity, especially in the public school sector, where the majority of learners did not have access to connectivity to allow implementation of a broader remote learning platform. This highlighted the inequality in the education system and presents an even greater argument that connectivity may be needed as a public service.A significant amount of healthcare provision has moved online with use of technology to mitigate the severity or the Covid-19 outbreak. The key learnings from Covid-19 was that online heath screening and consultations limits the spread of infectious disease also allowing rural communities access to equal healthcare as those in urban areas. Better connectivity allows more success in using contact screening technology, whereas dissemination of information to the connected citizen allows a greater ability to be informed and protect oneself from infection.Government and private sector response was a key factor in alleviating the impact of lockdowns. In Kenya, high-altitude internet balloons were used, beaming 4G to rural areas after the government fast-tracked regulatory approval. Globally internet providers increased speed and capacity at no cost to the user. The responses strengthen the argument that connectivity should be viewed as a public good.There are numerous success stories where connectivity has positively impacted various sectors. In India connectivity at rural clinics was related to a 14% lower mortality rate and the cost of eye care are remote clinics in India was reduced by up to 35% with proper connectivity. The use of remote learning applications to supplement normal classes increased student's test scores by 30% in a study conducted in North Carolina. The economic benefits extend to rural areas and SMME's, where evidence suggests that providing connectivity to rural farmers in India allowed them to increase their turnover by 8% due to greater information and access to markets. Connectivity could significantly improve turnover ratios for small and micro enterprises in rural areas of South Africa.
Utilising input-output analysis it was determined that investing R500 million in broadband infrastructure could potentially provide 4,300 direct and indirect jobs to the South African Economy.