Competition for limited investment resources is focussing the development of new broadband networks on lucrative urban population centres at the expense of everyone else, and the emergence of new organisations like residents groups commissioning networks is exacerbating the problem of service overlap and exclusion at the edges.

That’s the view of Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko, who opened the annual Southern Africa Telecommunications Networks and Applications Conference (SATNAC) in Port Elizabeth today.

“As a developing country there’s an inefficient use of capital,” he says, “And duplication of efforts.”

As part of the organisation’s recent internal reorganistion, he says, it is looking to take a key role in the government’s development of the National Broadband Plan, SA Connect, which was introduced by the department of communications last year. SA Connect spells out the government’s ambition to achieve universal access to broadband by 2020, through a series of public private partnerships and wholesale fixed line and mobile networks.

It’s as the main operator of one of these that Telkom sees itself playing a role.

“We believe we are ideally positioned to be the anchor in the partnership for the NBP,” Maseko told the audience at SATNAC, “We want to position ourselves as the carrier of carriers, to provide a lean efficient telecoms provider that will offer services for the benefit of all.”

Maseko said that he sees access to broadband as being close to a constitutional right, because it allows people to compete equally in a knowledge-based economy.

“The constitution speaks about improving quality of life for all citizens in this country.” he said, “That cannot be divorced from access to broadband. The writers of the constitution didn’t have it in mind… but clearly now it is central.”

Access to broadband can turn a young girl from a small township into a global citizen, he said, but that new models for collaboration between public and private operators would have to be found.

“As a developing country there’s an inefficient use of capital all duplicating efforts,” he said, adding that industry is competiting for infrasture-based investment in the most lucrative areas. According to Maseko, 2% of South Africa’s geographical area is home to 50% of the population and 77% of GDP. Those living outside of that small land area are being shut out of access to broadband due to low incentives for investment.

Stay tuned for more coverage from SATNAC throughout the day.