Torrent users tap into Cape Town’s free Wi-Fi

The Western Cape government is driving universal Wi-Fi access. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
The Western Cape government is driving universal Wi-Fi access. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Johannesburg - File sharing service BitTorrent is the most used application at Cape Town’s free Wi-Fi hotspots, but officials are mulling preventing access to potential illegal downloads on the network in future.

Cape Town has rolled out 69 free Wi-Fi access hotspots throughout Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha while plans exist to expand the service to another 61 areas across the city by June 2015.

The free Wi-Fi project forms part of Cape Town’s R1,3bn programme to complete the roll-out over the next seven years. Internet service providers MWEB, Orange and Internet Solutions (IS) provide free internet on the network as part of their marketing and corporate social responsibility programmes.

Most of the hotspots are situated at city infrastructure, such as municipal buildings. And a total of 28 000 devices have accessed the service, according to the city.

Cape Town further says that the most used application on its free Wi-Fi networks is BitTorrent, which has experienced 1.4TB of downloads in January 2015, followed by YouTube which racked up 546.56GB. Meanwhile, 152.99GB was used for cloud storage on Google Drive, according to the city.

BitTorrent, though, can be used to download pirated content such as films and TV series. But the city says it is aware of these risks.

“We actually had a meeting last week where we had quite a robust discussion around this, and the city is in the process of formulating a policy around which sites the city will perhaps ‘censor’ or prohibit access to,” Emma Powell, a spokesperson at the City of Cape Town, told Fin24.

“We’re obviously not in a position where we want to regulate the private behaviour of individuals, but at the same time we do need to make sure that our services are not being used to conduct illegal activities.

“So, the City of Cape Town is currently aware that these sites could be potentially used to download illegal content. But then again we’re not necessarily in the business of regulating private behaviour,” she said.

Powell said the city is currently formulating policy on the matter which could take between three to five months to formulate and be in place later this year.

“We’re going to be engaging with the professionals and our legal professionals on the matter and going forward perhaps drafting some form of usage policy,” she said.

Powell further explained to Fin24 that if users of the free Wi-Fi network exceeds the free service offering of the provider they have selected, the users then have an option to purchase data from that supplier.

As far as data usage on the free Wi-Fi service goes, MWEB has thus far been offering free uncapped data on the Cape Town network. Orange initially offered free 200MB per day per person but that has been increased to 3GB per person per day in February 2015. Internet Solutions (IS) has also offered a free data service of 50MB per day per person.

“Therefore, the user in many cases will personally carry the costs of downloads via BitTorrent, after the free data supplied by the ISP is used,” Powell told Fin24.

Powell further told Fin24 that “the city doesn’t however hold itself liable for any private downloads that go on individual’s cellphones”.

Users can currently connect to the city's 69 free Wi-Fi hotspots without entering any details or signing certain terms and conditions.

SA cities’ free Wi-Fi drive

Cape Town’s free Wi-Fi hotspots form part of its digital inclusion project that aims to make the city the “first truly digital city in Africa”.

Other cities in SA, such as Tshwane, are also involved in free Wi-Fi projects.

Last month, Gauteng Premier David Makhura said that around R150m has been invested to deliver free Wi-Fi to Tshwane.

Non-profit Project Isizwe has to date been building out free Wi-Fi services across Tshwane in areas such as the Pretoria CBD and Mamelodi.

Johannesburg is also building a 900km broadband network at a cost of R3.4bn in bid to allow internet access to areas which previously had no fibre.

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