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Crime and corruption killing fibre rollouts in South Africa

Crime and corruption are killing fibre rollouts across South Africa, with poor communities being hit the hardest.

This is according to feedback from industry players familiar with fibre rollouts in townships and rural areas who asked to remain anonymous.

One example is Vumatel’s Alexandra fibre project where the company aimed to provide residents with uncapped fibre for R89 per month.

Vumatel initially hoped to complete construction of the first phase in Alexandra by the end of March 2018, but this did not happen.

In April 2018, Vumatel said it has completed the planning for the first phase of its fibre network build for Alexandra, but was waiting on the required regulatory approvals.

Since then not much has happened, and in May this year, Vumatel told Business Insider the roll-out cannot commence until it has received wayleave approvals from the City of Johannesburg.

Bribery and corruption allegations

An industry player with knowledge of the Vumatel project told MyBroadband that bribery and corruption are at the heart of the Alexandra fibre problems.

He said it is challenging to receive the necessary approvals and support for these fibre rollouts without greasing the palms of the right people.

These approvals are necessary to use the existing pole infrastructure in Alexandra to roll out its aerial fibre network.

He added that this corruption is making it nearly impossible to roll out fibre networks in areas like Alexandra.

Gangs targeting fibre companies in townships and rural areas

Another fibre network operator told MyBroadband that they do not use any branded vehicles or branded clothing when its staff has to do work in townships.

He said criminal gangs target fibre operators which try to roll out networks – both to steal their equipment and belongings and to solicit bribes from these companies.

The situation is so bad that Vumatel had to stop work in KwaZulu-Natal in August 2018 due to intimidation and threats against workers.

“This means that until the issues have been resolved, the contractors will be unable to attend to civil work or reinstatements,” Vumatel said.

Maintaining fibre networks also a problem

The crime problem even extends to the maintenance of fibre networks in certain areas.

Last year Openserve fibre technicians in Bishop Lavis, Cape Town were chased away from repairing a fibre line in the area.

The restoration of a “major optic fibre route” came to a stop when technicians and their security escorts had to leave the area after being confronted by a group of people.

Openserve said it reported the matter to the police, who recommended that technicians stay away until they were given the green light.

Vumatel responds

Vumatel told MyBroadband that it is currently awaiting the necessary approvals and remain firm in its commitment to bring high-speed connectivity to all communities.

The company did not directly comment on allegations that bribery and corruption are hampering the project.

Instead, it said its investment in, and partnership with the communities where fibre is being earmarked or rolled out is done so through the correct and approved channels.

“Our project is currently awaiting the necessary approvals and will commence as soon as these are received,” Vumatel said.

Video of a gang targeting a fibre operator

The video below shows two members of a fibre installation team being held up at gunpoint while thieves make off with their belongings. MyBroadand

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