Battleground Isizwe sees Bloem, PE face off

Alan Knott-Craig Jnr says the race for "the next Tshwane" is between the municipalities in Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein.
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Alan Knott-Craig Jnr says the race for "the next Tshwane" is between the municipalities in Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein.

Project Isizwe's next WiFi project will likely be either in Port Elizabeth or Bloemfontein.

This is according to CEO Alan Knott-Craig Jnr, who says there is a race on for which metro will get the next 'Tshwane-type' project.

"I'd say the race right now is between Mangaung or Nelson Mandela Bay, and right now I'd probably say the Free State is in the lead," according to Knott-Craig.

He says Project Isizwe is in discussions with both Bloemfontein's Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality in the Free State and Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality, which covers the greater Port Elizabeth area, Uitenhage and Despatch in the Eastern Cape.

Project Isizwe is a non-profit organisation, which has been working with SA's municipalities since 2013 to facilitate the rollout of free WiFi for public spaces in low income communities, to connect people for education, economic development and social inclusion.

Its pilot project in Tshwane in Gauteng will see everyone in the metro being in walking distance of free WiFi by 2017. Knott-Craig says the Tshwane project is already the biggest municipal WiFi network on the continent.

In 2015, the project has seen an average of 165 000 monthly unique users, with 22 million connections made to date, 81% of those via mobile phones. As of July, 95% of Tshwane's wards were connected to free WiFi.

Knott-Craig sees Internet access as a basic service like water and electricity, and believes the Tshwane strategy of making WiFi within walking distance of everyone is scalable for other municipalities in South Africa.

"Don't put free broadband into everybody's house; that is financially unviable and you are also competing with the private sector. Don't do that. Just like with busses, if you can't afford a car you can walk from your house to a bus stop. So if you can't afford broadband in your house, you can walk from your house to free WiFi."

He says government's broadband strategy, SA Connect, is "excellent".

"The Tshwane tactics are I think exactly what SA Connect needs in order to achieve its ambitions. The strategy for SA Connect is great; they are still trying to work out the tactics, and I think Tshwane's got the tactics."

But Knott-Craig admits municipalities are not putting enough of their budgets into WiFi.

"Every municipality should spend about 1% of their annual budget for free WiFi for their people. The city of Tshwane has a R24 billion a year budget; 1% is R240 million. With R240 million every year, you can make sure every citizen of Tshwane has free WiFi."

He says this strategy is already promoting economic development and helping with unemployment in Tshwane, which he says is "not sexy or innovative" but life-changing.

"People are looking on physical job boards right now for jobs and if they want to apply they can't e-mail their CV, they have to print it out. With free WiFi, they can now e-mail their CV, so you are getting kids off the streets and into jobs, and people can start online businesses. There is also educational stuff, communications stuff; the possibility is endless."

Paula Gilbert
ITWeb telecoms editor.

Paula Gilbert is the Telecoms Editor at ITWeb. She is an award winning journalist covering telecoms, business, start-ups and new innovations in finance and mobile. She previously worked as a producer and reporter for business television channels Bloomberg TV Africa and CNBC Africa and started her career in radio. She has an Honours degree in Journalism from Rhodes University. Travel is always on Paula's mind, she has visited 30 countries so far and is currently researching her next adventure.

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