David Harrison’s article in the Cape Times titled The Empowerment of Connection should act as wake up call for all the communities of South Africa (rich and poor) to put more pressure on communications departments within government and the private sector into making internet affordable. Investing in cheaper connectivity for all should be a major priority: research has shown that it increases household income, which means a larger consumer pool for corporates and more tax money for the government – everybody wins[N1] .
His article should be seen in conjunction with Telkom’s recent rejection of South Korean company KT, which would have seen capacity rise significantly and cost decrease significantly. Speculation over the reason the deal - which seemed to be done and dusted - fell through at the eleventh hour due to government interference, is that it had something to do with the ruling party’s links to communist China, who aren’t big fans of the democratic South Koreans. The growing trend in big decisions is that need for progress comes second to the fear of losing control and until party funding is made open, we won’t really know why certain decisions are being made and who’s agenda is being followed.
Morrison argues the merits of using mobile technology to close the inequality gap, citing examples of kids whose teachers don’t come to class who can still play maths games, jobseekers who can more easily find vacancies in their surrounding areas, rural universities who can download content not locally available in hard copy or set up long distance lectures via programs like Skype or Google Hangouts, teachers and nurses who can take refresher courses and keep up with the latest best-practice, and how it can improve communication between citizens and councils over service delivery.
The immediate future of connectivity and information access is through mobile technology, with the 2011 consensus revealing that 89% of households own at least one cell phone, whereas only 21% have access to computers, and 15% access to a landline. Half of the people who do access the web, do so via a phone. But, damningly, two thirds of the South African population still do not have access to the internet. The reason for this is infrastructure. There are cell phone towers broadcasting to most inhabited places in South Africa, but the cost of using them is too high to make it practical for sending and receiving large amounts of information.
Connectivity breeds innovation and in a changing world, where many people do jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago, having access to knowledge is vital for progress - vital for survival - yet we let a company like Telkom, 39% of which is state owned, monopolise the market and use legislature to keep out competition, which keeps prices high and thus denies access to life changing connectivity to a people who desperately need it. Like we saw in the Fix Our Schools Campaign by Equal Education and like we are seeing with the Commission of Inquiry into Khayelitsha Policing, pressure needs to be placed on individuals who are holding us to ransom, through incompetence, unwillingness or in order to line their own pockets and further their own personal agendas.