The founder of Project Isizwe Alan Knott-Craig jnr, had a dream of a connected South Africa, more specifically a connected low-income community. So, he approached the council and Project Isizwe partnered with CoT to launch what would become one of the biggest Public free WiFi projects.
Project Isizwe went from 15 hotspots to 1050 hotspots, covering the low-income densely populated communities in Tshwane, by 2016 we were connecting over 600 000 users a month to the Free Wifi. Beyond just connecting the citizens of Tshwane to the internet we had other value add services such as the zero-rated content portal where the Mayor would inter-act with his citizens every second week and they would ask him service delivery related questions.
Project Isizwe also had the WiFi tv, which was run by young citizen journalists from Tshwane, reporting on local issues. Looking back, we ran the first big online community broadcaster. Tshwane did not inspire other Cities but influenced the thinking on how internet access ought to be a right for all Citizens.
To be more specific, we at Project Isizwe did this comparison on the price of mobile data on prepaid vs postpaid (contract). Let us use the analogy of water and I use water because we live in an age whereby if you have no mobile data on your smart phone, unfortunately it stops being smart.
Connectivity for the poor becomes luxury
Therefore, the need to stay connected for educational, economic or inclusion reasons has become like one of the basic utilities in our time. Operators argue that smaller bundles on short validity periods compare more favorably, although that may be the case but those on prepaid plans still pay 80-100x more.
And in case this presentation almost sounds like I am vilifying the mobile network operators, I am not. However, I am merely trying to draw the attention to each and everyone in this room today. That as we have robust and exciting discussions on digital economy, 5G and the opportunities of the 4IR. Much of our country is unable to fully tap onto these opportunities, because of the cost of data amongst other reasons I will also highlight shortly in my presentation impedes on their right and therefore connectivity for the poor becomes luxury.
We did not just stop at Connecting Tshwane; we went on and implored other players in the system both in the private and the public sector to partner with us and bridge the digital divide. Because the city of Deben and Mapoteng in the Northern Cape would love to be just as connected and participate in the digital economy, but its governments priorities outweigh its capability (IPP partnership).
In the process of what we believe is a great mission. ‘Connecting people within a walking distance’ Statistics SA last year comes back with this report. 10% of homes connected. Now I don’t know about you, but I have never done homework in a taxi rank. In case you didn’t know the reason why only 10% of SA homes have fixed broadband is primarily because of our historical unequal heritage, where fiber was openly trenched in leafy suburbs. Also, because for Big Telecoms companies it was too risky.
So, today we are sitting still with a perceived lack of demand which has resulted in the undersupply of telecoms infrastructure in many of the dense low-income communities.I say perceived because, People in low income communities are already buying the Data, hence the MNos are laughing all the way to the bank. And they stay exploited because unlike you and I they have no offload option as soon as they get off that taxi this evening either from School or Work.
So, this challenge and opportunity made us think and along the way were happy Eureka moments.
- Aerial Fiber cheaper than trenching.
- Grams house first connect and used as a POC with other Gogos.
- The World Bank published a study that reported that a 10% increase in Broadband in a developing country correlates to 1.38% increase in GDP growth.
- What is the cost of not connecting the majority in the comfort of their own home?
- What will the negative impact on equality if we do not put our triple FFF’s together and truly solve our digital inequality instead of shifting the responsibility to government; Whilst we create more apps that promise to make our lives more convenient.