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Free WiFi for ‘all townships’ beyond 2024, says Lesufi

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 20 Feb 2024
Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi.
Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi.

The new economy is data and access to WiFi, says Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi. This, as the provincial government has invested R2.7 billion in Gauteng infrastructure development to provide connectivity, he revealed.

Lesufi yesterday delivered the 2024 State of the Province Address at the Nasrec Expo Centre, noting reliable connectivity is among the support mechanisms for those that invest in the province.

He said the investment is to ensure “reliable broadband and 5G that can make companies connect with their clients easily in our province”.

“We want to thank MTN and the institutions that are partnering with us. The good thing about this GBN [Gauteng Broadband Network] is that small businesses will no longer struggle to get connectivity in our province.

“Schools will no longer struggle to get connectivity, and public institutions will never struggle to get connectivity.”

The provincial government began implementing the GBN − considered Gauteng’s flagship ICT project − in 2014, as part of the city region’s modernisation agenda.

The project is in line with the province’s e-government strategy, which aims to ensure the modernisation of government and delivery of services in the digital age. It also aims to improve linkages and integration among city region governments and their departments.

The provincial government sees high-speed connectivity as a critical foundational infrastructure requirement for success of the province's city region modernisation agenda.

Phase one of the project commenced in 2014 and was completed early in 2018, with 1 181 sites connected.

However, its implementation has been marred by wasteful expenditure, non-compliance, missed milestones and disgruntled SMEs crying foul for being sidelined from the lucrative project.

There was also fallout between the State Information Technology Agency and the department over the management of the project.

Lesufi emphasised that WiFi infrastructure is a fundamental right that connects communities and fosters inclusivity.

Resultantly, the provincial government has prioritised providing “reliable internet and access to free WiFi” in the townships, he noted.

“We are pleased to report back that through private sector partnerships (Telkom, Herotel and Broadband Infraco) more than 50 townships are now covered with broadband, enabling residents and enterprises alike to access high-speed internet services at reasonable rates.”

Lesufi revealed that in the current financial year, more than 42 township areas have been covered with broadband.

“During this term of office, we made investments intended to modernise infrastructure for the rollout of the Gauteng provincial network. This network is being maintained, ensuring its resilience as a backbone for connectivity. We extended wide area network capabilities to 1 249 sites, local area network coverage reached 719 sites, and 344 sites were equipped with voice capabilities.

“Beyond 2024, we will roll out connectivity across all townships. All public institutions, schools, healthcare facilities and state offices will have dependable WiFi.”