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DigiTalk with DUT’s Digital Activist, Colin Thakur

DigiTalk with DUT’s Digital Activist, Colin Thakur

I visited Ladysmith during the vacation and was delighted when my cellphone resourcefully picked up the free WiFi hotspots in the city centre.

This is now on the streets, not inside a restaurant. So you have to ask the question: If a lovely small town like Ladysmith, with a population of 250 000, can offer free WiFi, why can’t a CNN-nominated Blue Flag status city like Durban do the self-same?

We have the Seacom and Eassy international Internet cables landing within spitting distance of us, in Mtunzini, both busy exporting our currency. Yet other landlocked cities are offering their citizens Internet-related freebies. Even our neighbouring countries are using the same cable to offer cheaper services than we do.

EThekwini has been promising a whole range of e-services to ratepayers. The last time I heard Internet usage was being shrink-wrapped in a business model for sustainability. I sincerely hope this does not mean our city fathers are planning to earn recurring income from us! Two decades ago, the industry coined the term “vapourware” to refer to products that are promised but not delivered.
Mark Zuckerberg, the FaceBook creator, wants to make Internet connectivity a human right. Alan Knott-Craig junior, son of the Cell C CEO, and a seriously connected entrepreneur in his own right, has started Project Isizwe, whose lofty goal is free WiFi in South Africa, with the city of Tshwane the first big project. We now learn that Tshwane has declared connectivity a basic service in the city. And eThekwini?

The group chief information officer for Tshwane, Dumisani Otumile, rightly boasts his city has the best formula to roll out Wi-Fi. pointing it will have 650 WiFi sites by June this year. It will provide video-on-demand services soon. Tshwane already gives 8GB of free data to residents on a monthly basis. Huh? The cost? Otumile mentions a cost to the city of R1 per 1GB per month per user. We have the swankiest promenade in the world, with no free Wi-Fi. Duh?

Some cities refer to WiFi as municipal WiFi or muni-Wi-Fi. The reasons Los Angeles, along with at least 57 other American cities, wants to do muni-WiFi is to bridge the digital divide, create support jobs, and spawn waves of innovation.

The benefit of a connected city is that it provides environmental, social, and economic advantages. When we reduce people traffic, we reduce road traffic, which reduces energy requirements and so on.
The province of KwaZulu-Natal has just spiralled to second last place in the latest round of matric results. To be fair to us, while we do have 25 percent of all matriculants, we do not have the proportional funding benefit. Free WiFi will go a long way to support learners in accessing much needed material. The Siyavula maths and science textbooks are already available for most grades online at no cost. But students need free connectivity to access the books.

Websites like Khan Academy are already helping millions of active curious learners. This is an always-on, ever-present, union-free resource. Enticingly, Otumile added that the free Internet access is only the start as other over the top (OTP) services such as WiFi TV, a free Voice WiFi to make free mobile calls and some free latest movies are now being rolled out using this network. And in partnership with Project Isizwe, the City of Tshwane introduced free WiFi for commuters on its Bus Rapid Transit system, A Re Yeng, from last month.

In an expansion of Tshwane’s free WiFi network, which has already connected nearly 300 000 unique users in the country’s capital in 2014, the A Re Yeng buses come equipped with connection to 250MB of free WiFi per device per day, giving users the ability to look for jobs, access learning materials and keep in touch with their friends while on the move around their city. This innovative system makes use of the Radwin Mobility Solution, with more than nine kilometres of fibre optic cable strung along the route, creating a dedicated high speed network. This type of municipal innovation will inevitably force monopolies like DSTV to drop their prices as consumers investigate other options. Free WiFi encourages surfing, which may even encourage reading.
It is 2015 and our nation is neatly sandwiched between the national and the local elections. Local government election campaigning swings into action. You should consider adding e-service related issues such as WiFi to your list of questions for the local candidate vying for your vote.

You may not know this but Tshwane has stolen third place from eThekwini, behind Johannesburg and Cape Town, in terms of economic size. This is a huge backward step for our beloved metro.
The reason is becoming evident.

* Colin Thakur is the Director of the iNeSi e-Skills CoLab at the Durban University of Technology. He is a digital activist keen on upgrading the e-skills of the nation to enhance the quality of life. He lives and subscribes to the mantra One-person-One-connected device.

Source: East Coast Mail and the Dolphin Coast

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