Tshwane free Wi-Fi project 'best in Africa'

Cape Town - The free Wi-Fi rollout in the City of Tshwane is going according to plan, despite moans from critics, says an NGO.

The city began rolling out a free Wi-Fi network in 2013 and the plan is to expand the network to universal access and connectivity as part of the city's vision.

"Tshwane has made history by becoming the first metro to roll out free Wi-Fi and indeed our announcement of the provision of this service was made before the City of New York's announcement - this is indeed a ground-breaking achievement for an African city," Executive Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa said in his State of the Capital City Address.

The Wi-Fi network is designed to eventually provide universal access for all residents in the city, despite criticism that it is not as fast as propriety networks.

"The average speeds of the Tshwane free Wi-Fi network are 7mbps. That’s fast enough for most rich people, never mind poor communities," Alan Knott-Craig jnr, the brains behind Project Isizwe told News24.

Priority

Project Isizwe has been contracted to provide the rollout of free Wi-Fi and the mayor went on the offensive to show that Tshwane was intent on expanding the network.

"In the next eighteen months, the City of Tshwane will expand the project and roll out about 600 additional Wi-Fi hotspots throughout Tshwane, prioritising institutions of learning."



However, every city faces financial pressures and some have argued that building internet access should be further down on the list of priorities than acute social challenges such as water and electricity systems.

Knott-Craig argued that the free Wi-Fi network is far cheaper than mobile operator networks and was critical to the development of the residents.

"The Tshwane network costs R1/GB. That is 1 000 times cheaper than Vodacom 3G (R1/MB). The World Bank reports that for every 10% broadband penetration a country's GDP grows by 1.3%.

"Add the massive impact of access to information and online education resources, and I'd argue that it is specifically because we do have so many pressing social priorities that internet access should be prioritised," he said.

Human rights

The mayor went a step further, saying that broadband access should be a human right.

"Our perspective is that access to connectivity must be viewed as a basic human right, analogous to the provision of basic services such as water and electricity. We have made tremendous progress in closing the digital divide and expanding internet connectivity."

This sentiment is in line with the World Summit on the Information Society which declared the "commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society" under the auspices of the UN.

According to the GSM Association's Sub-Saharan Mobile Economy report of 2013, the deployment of 3G services is at 7.6% in the region, far below the global average for developing markets of 17.3%.

In SA, the deployment of 3G is 39.3% and though mobile operators MTN and Vodacom are intent on rolling high speed networks, they are currently hamstrung by a lack of spectrum allocation by the regulator.

Knott-Craig believes that Wi-Fi will make up the bulk of coverage for people wanting to access the internet as cost is factored into the equation.

"I see a future where there are parallel wireless networks covering the continent. Wi-Fi and 3G ( LTE, etc). Wi-Fi is the tap water. 3G is the Valpre."


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