The idea of free internet access within South African cities is no longer a far-fetched idea. A non-profit organisation, Project Isizwe has made this a reality in the City of Tshwane.
At the municipality’s universities students can access up to 250 MB of data per day. And in schools in Soshanguve, Mamelodi and Attridgeville, previously disadvantaged areas, learners are also using the internet service.
As one University of Pretoria student, Thozama Mputa says, “I have used it and it relieves the pressure of having to run to the nearest coffee shop when in need of the internet because it offers the convenience of searching for what I want at anytime as long as I am near a hotspot.”
Another Project Isizwe user Siyabonga Mazibuko noted that “the hotspots have been strategically placed in areas where many people can access the Wifi which makes it more accessible to many people.”
Having begun in 2012, the project, which is funded through municipal and provincial grants and through private funding, is already rolling out its third phase, with the organisation installing more access points throughout the city. The project has been well received by community members and the organisation recently celebrated more than 600, 000 unique users having accessed the network as of 22 May 2015, according to information supplied by Project Isizwe.
The hotspots so far are situated at Tshwane University of Technology’s Soshanguve campus, the University of Pretoria’s Hatfield campus, Tshwane North College, Mamelodi Community Centre, Church square, the Union Buildings, and Attridgeville amongst other suburbs in Tshwane.
According to Tim Human, Project Isizwe’s marketing manger, phase 1 included implementing five sites and phase 2 of the rollout brought connectivity to 213 additional schools in Soshanguve, Mamelodi and Attridgeville. After the third phase there should be about 650 sites in place in Tshwane.
The positive response from users has compelled the project team to launch additional services and the ability for users to access multimedia content through the Isizwe connections are in the works. A Wifi Drive-In, which will allow users to download movies in designated wifi areas, is about to be launched, along with Wifi TV and Wifi voice, which enables free calls on the network between connected devices. This, however, will put pressure on the organisation to increase the bandwidth allocated to users, who currently receive 250 MB per device per day.
Other challenges Project Isizwe has had to deal with over the past couple of months include the impact of load shedding. The Project Isizwe team has come up with a strategy to reduce the connectivity disturbance for users when the power it out by tracking hotspot sites which have the most traffic and keeping them connected for the duration of the down time. Human explained that alternative ways of overcoming this problem are being discussed and the costs and resources required are being considered.
The Wifi initiative has also been costly to roll out because of the high implementation costs. But the team is working to identify different ways to reduce the costs so that it can continue to be a viable project to be implemented nationwide.
Although the Wifi network does not reach all areas in Tshwane, main public areas have been connected and can be used in the meantime. According to the organisation, it has already been working on installments across the City of Tshwane, the Western Cape, and in Limpopo’s Thulamela and Mutale municipalities. There are plans to expand throughout South Africa and Project Isizwe is in talks with other municipalities in Limpopo, the Free State, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
Project Isizwe is a much needed answer for the nation in providing an affordable means of accessing information for those who would otherwise not be able to. The idea of conveniently having access to the internet is sure to fast-track the youth’s digital involvement, making for a more technologically aware community. Project Isizwe has great potential not only within South Africa but greater Africa too.