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Empowering communities through affordable internet access

Addressing the digital divide demands a deep understanding of local contexts, cultural sensitivities and community dynamics.
Tauriq Brown
By Tauriq Brown, CEO, TooMuchWifi.
Johannesburg, 28 Jun 2024
Tauriq Brown, CEO of TooMuchWifi.
Tauriq Brown, CEO of TooMuchWifi.

As a South African who spent time away from my country, I am deeply invested in the mission to provide affordable internet access to underserved communities.

This journey began for me with a profound realisation of the challenges faced by individuals like Patricia, a domestic worker struggling to balance employment and motherhood due to limited internet access. Her story epitomises the human impact of the digital divide, spurring me into action.

Patricia lived in an informal settlement in South Africa, commonly referred to as a township. Her employer found her irregular availability due to leaving early or arriving late highly frustrating. He realised Patricia couldn't afford consistent internet access.

Unlike some in SA, who pay a small percentage of their income for internet connectivity at home, Patricia had to purchase internet data in small increments, which resulted in significantly higher costs, consuming 15% to 20% of her income. This financial burden made it difficult for Patricia to stay connected online.

Equitable access to the internet is a fundamental right. That's why affordable connectivity solutions aren’t enough.

Unable to access essential services, educational resources and employment opportunities online, she faced barriers that hindered her ability to thrive in today's digital society. Her story serves as a poignant reminder of the human impact of the digital divide, igniting my passion and commitment to empower individuals like Patricia through affordable internet solutions.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, as of 2023, approximately 5.4 billion people, or 67% of the world's population, were connected to the internet, with 2.6 billion people still offline. This digital divide is particularly pronounced in Africa.

The challenges we encounter are multifaceted, ranging from technical hurdles, to socio-economic barriers. However, we need to remain committed to finding innovative solutions. I believe an emphasis on community engagement, customised services and sustainable partnerships is a holistic approach to overcoming obstacles and driving meaningful change.

Understanding the issue

In today's digital age, access to the internet is no longer a luxury but a necessity. It serves as a gateway to information, education, employment opportunities, healthcare services and social connections.

However, millions of people around the world are still deprived of this fundamental resource, perpetuating inequalities and hindering socio-economic development.

The digital divide encompasses various dimensions, including geographical location, income level, education, age and ethnicity. Rural and remote areas often face significant infrastructural challenges, such as limited broadband coverage and high deployment costs.

In urban settings, marginalised communities are disproportionately affected by economic disparities and lack of digital literacy.

Community-centric approach

Addressing the digital divide requires more than just technological solutions. It demands a deep understanding of local contexts, cultural sensitivities and community dynamics. I believe adopting a community-centric approach, collaborating closely with residents, grassroots organisations and local authorities is the way to co-create tailored interventions.

Co-creation begins with an extensive needs assessments and consultations to identify specific challenges and opportunities. Transparency, accountability and inclusivity need to be at the forefront of decision-making processes, ensuring the voices of marginalised groups are heard and valued. By fostering trust and collaboration, we cultivate a sense of ownership and empowerment within communities.

Equitable access to the internet is a fundamental right. That's why affordable connectivity solutions aren’t enough. According to a report by the World Bank, digital skills training programmes can increase internet adoption rates by up to 25% in low- and middle-income countries.

Reinvesting directly back into the communities we operate in is required to support community development initiatives, from educational programmes to skills training workshops, empowering individuals to unlock their full potential in an increasingly digital world.

It doesn’t always need to be financial investment either. Access to data is just as crucial as access to the internet itself. Data ensures those who need it most can stay connected without worrying about affordability.

So, reinvesting with data donations can help students to access online learning resources or assist entrepreneurs running small businesses, and make a tangible difference in people's lives.

Sustainable partnerships

Partnership plays a pivotal role. Collaborating with organisations that share the same vision and values is essential for success. For instance, forging strategic alliances with telecommunications providers, government agencies, non-profit organisations and corporate sponsors to leverage resources, expertise and networks.

One such partnership is that with Workonline Communications, a wholesale IP transit provider. By leveraging Workonline's established infrastructure and industry insights, we’re able to increase our expansion efforts and reach more underserved communities across South Africa.

Together, we work towards democratising access to information, education and opportunities, empowering communities to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world.

Partnerships enable us to scale our impact, reach new markets and drive systemic change.

I have a strong sense of optimism and determination that we will create a more inclusive digital society. By expanding access, refining solutions and deepening community engagement, we can work towards a future where access to the internet is truly universal and equitable.

Together, we can bridge the digital divide and empower individuals and communities to unlock their full potential. Through collaboration, innovation and solidarity, we can build a brighter, more connected future for all, and make the world wide web truly world-wide.

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