Reviewing Universal Access in South Africa

Benjamin, Peter
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LINK Centre, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), Johannesburg
This article reviews the progress towards universal access to telephony and other information projects in South Africa between 1996, when the last Telecommunications Act was passed, and 2000. It draws on the results of the Telecentre 2000 (1) study and the Community ICT (2)research project. The Telecentre programme of the Universal Service Agency (USA) is examined in detail, with statistics on the progress of their 65 telecentres being provided. This programme is critiqued, focusing both on the problems of the telecentres and a misunderstanding of their role in creating a model for universal access. Initiatives, such as Vodacom Phone shops and the Multi-Purpose Community Centres of the Government Communications & Information Service, are also covered to show other models for community ICT projects were possible. The statistics on universal access since 1996, showing a major increase in access to telephony, are given though this has little to do with the work of the USA. The idea of a "Dig-it-all divide" is introduced. The challenges facing the country in this sector are very different from what they were in 1996, and the focus of the work in this area must shift from chasing numbers to finding real ways in which these technologies can support people-centred development.
Benjamin, P. (2001). Reviewing universal access in South Africa. The Southern African Journal of Information and Communication (SAJIC), 2.