Free Wi-Fi project targets poor

2013-08-21 14:01 - Duncan Alfreds
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Alan Knott-Craig jnr

Alan Knott-Craig jnr is pushing the rollout of free Wi-Fi. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

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Cape Town - The rollout of free urban internet access over Wi-Fi is a critical component of service delivery with the ability to raise the living standards of residents, an NGO has said.

The City of Tshwane announced last week that it was embarking on a programme to provide free Wi-Fi to residents.

Also in Gauteng, MEC Mandla Nkomfe announced that 2 200 provincial public schools will each receive free tablets, Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity.

Cape Town has a programme of limited Wi-Fi in the Company Gardens and manufacturing giant Samsung has made free Wi-Fi available to users of its mobile devices in partnership with AlwaysOn.

"The answer is a resounding 'yes'. It's like tap water. In a desert, any water will do. It changes your life. Once you get used to it then you move on to Valpré," Alan Knott-Craig jnr, the brains behind Project Isizwe, told News24 about the need to deliver free internet access.

Challenges

Project Isizwe intends to rollout Wi-Fi mainly to people in impoverished communities by using spare bandwidth capacity in companies.

While some may criticise the offering as limited because of the capacity, the organisation said that it was able to deliver connectivity to those had none, or who could not afford it.

"If the web is like water, then today in South Africa there is no tap water to be found. Project Isizwe aims to bring tap water to those that can't afford the bottled stuff," Knott-Craig said.

He pioneered free Wi-Fi while CEO of social network Mxit in Stellenbosch, and now wants to take the model to connect people who cannot afford mobile data rates, even though the price has been declining rapidly.

Cell C offers the lowest out-of-bundle data rate of 15c per 1MB, and Alan Knott-Craig snr is the operator's CEO.

"Mobile operators are doing an excellent job, but they'll never offer a free service. Just as with water and electricity, local governments will need to step in if they want basic access to the web for their residents that can't afford 3G or ADSL," said Knott-Craig jnr.

Major challenges in rolling out the service include the allocation of sites and funding, but Knott-Craig said that the poor stood to benefit from the Wi-Fi internet access once a project was up and running.

Basic right

"Other than sites, funding is the issue. By providing the funding for free Wi-Fi, specifically for public spaces around educational institutions in low income communities, we can move quickly," he said.

World Bank figures show that for every 10% increase in mobile penetration, there is a corresponding 0.8% increase in gross domestic product (GDP).

"Mobile communications offer major opportunities to advance human and economic development - from providing basic access to health information to making cash payments, spurring job creation, and stimulating citizen involvement in democratic processes," said World Bank vice president for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte.

Knott-Craig argued that internet access should be a basic right for all South Africans, much like access to water and electricity.

"I'm sure back in the 1700s there was a debate as to whether water and electricity should be a basic service to which all citizens are entitled. Twenty years from now we'll look back in amazement that people actually debated the same argument for internet access."

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