City of Johannesburg budgets R40m for free WiFi

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The City of Johannesburg (COJ) says preparations to broaden its freeWiFi access landscape are under way.

This comes after the COJ presented its 2020/21 to 2022/23 medium-term budget, allocating R40 million for the 2020/21 financial year to expand access to free WiFi across the city.

The total allocation for the three-year medium-term budget is R120 million, says city spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane.

“The expansion of the free Joburg WiFi hotspots is in line with the city’s growth and development strategy to improve the lived experiences of the people of Johannesburg by transforming the metropolitan into a smart city through the provision of free WiFi in communities across Johannesburg – and effectively bridging the digital divide.

“The WiFi hotspots are designed to eliminate the affordability factor to access the Internet for the people of Johannesburg, and to ensure municipal account-holders, small business enterprise owners, entrepreneurs, freelance workers, as well as students have access to online municipal services, academic materials and economic opportunities for socio-economic development.”

Connected city

According to Modingoane, the free WiFi rollout is executed by the city’s broadband network company.

Currently, the COJ’s public WiFi service is available in 84 sites across the city, he says, adding that on average, the number of daily users was 6 000 citizens.

However, as a result of the COVID-19 national lockdown, those numbers have declined to 3 500 average daily users, he highlights.

In terms of expanding the service, the spokesperson says the city is targeting rollout in public areas such as clinics, licensing centres, revenue centres, fire stations, bus rapid transport stations, libraries, community halls, recreation centres, hostels, social housing, taxi ranks and tourism destinations.

Independent analyst and researcher Dr Charley Lewis commends the city’s plans and financial commitment to extending the reach of free public WiFi, noting R40 million is a substantial commitment.

“As we have all seen to our cost, COVID-19 has exposed the deep digital donga that rives our society and separates the digital haves from the online poor, and undermines the ability of ICT to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on the poor and the marginalised, in particular.

“Free public WiFi is a critical weapon in the armoury of interventions needed to bridge that divide and to take us towards universal access and service to broadband Internet. It is not a substitute for reducing data service prices, for TV white space licensing, for universal service funding, for digital skills development, and more – but a key supplement. And it needs to be part of an integrated approach, of the kind so glowingly promised by SA Connect, but hitherto so poorly delivered.”

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck concurs, saying free WiFi is recognised the world over as a basic service that local authorities should offer to the public.

“It serves numerous purposes, including providing more direct access to public services and information. In an unequal society, it begins to address the lack of access to the digital economy that defines the digital divide.”

Kinks to iron out

Lewis points out that the deployment model is key, as is learning the lessons and avoiding the pitfalls of some of the models in other metros − Tshwane and Cape Town, among them.

Likewise, the deployment geography is key, he says. “We need to ensure access privileges for those in townships and informal settlements.

“Further, we need to ensure the rollout of WiFi is not simply an infrastructure solution to a social problem, and that it is linked to demand-side interventions such as digital skills development and the provision of appropriate online services and content.”

Goldstuck stresses that the existing free service is limited in terms of both range of locations and general reach, and needs significant additional investment to turn it into the utility that it needs to become.

“Limiting free WiFi to libraries also keeps it out of reach of much of the population,” he states. “It should be provided where people tend to be kept waiting longest for services, such as hospitals, clinics, licensing and UIF offices. Ultimately, public access kiosks should be part of the rollout to ensure that lack of the right device is not in itself a barrier.”

Where to access free Joburg WiFi hotspots:

122 Solomon Street (Library Administration and Stores)29Davidsonville Clinic57Linden Library
261 Jorisson Place30Diepkloof Zone5 Library58Malvern Clinic
3ACA Krans - Region B31Diepsloot Skills Centre59Martindale JMPD Head Quarters
4Alexandra 8th Avenue Clinic32Elias Motswaledi Clinic60Mid Ennerdale Clinic
5Alexandra 8th Avenue Social Development33Emmerencia Library61Midrand West Clinic
6Alexandra Children’s Library34Eureka House Region F Customer Service Centre62Mofolo South Clinic
7Alexandra Eastbank Clinic35Fairview Fire station63Mountain View Clinic
8Bellavista Clinic36Ferndale Recreation Centre64Museum Africa
9Berario Clinic37Florida Fire station65Nokhuphila Clinic
10Bez Valley Clinic38Florida Library66Northview Fire station
11Boskruin Library39Glenanda Clinic67Petervale Clinic
12Bosmont Clinic40Green Village Clinic68Princess Park Clinic
13Brixton Fire station41Halfway House Library69Proton House Call Centre
14Bryanston Library42Harrison Street Call Centre70Randburg Civic Centre
15CJ Cronje Region F Customer Service Centre43Hikensile Clinic71River Park Clinic
16Cosmo City Fire station44Hodgensen Fire station72Riverlea Clinic
17Cosmo City Library45Ivory Park Library Lord Khanyile73Riverpark Library
18Crosby Clinic46Jabulani Civic Centre - Region D74Rivonia Library
19Crown Gardens Recreation and Clinic47Transport Department - Sauer Street75Roodepoort Civic Centre
20137 Daisy Street - Region E Customer Service Centre48Lenasia South Civic76Roodepoort Library
21Rosettenville Clinic49SAPPI Building77Soweto Empowerment Zone (Business Opportunity Centre)
22Sandown Clinic50Sol Plaatjies Clinic78Teljoy Building (Region A Customer Service Centre)
23Sandton Library51Sophiatown Clinic79Tladi Clinic
24Sandton (Marlboro JMPD) Traffic52Southhills Library80Weilers Farm Clinic
25Sandton Traffic Customer Service53Soweto Country Club (Golf Estate)81Weltevreden Park Clinic
26Wemmer Complex JMPD54Westbury Clinic82Witpoortjie Library
27Wendywood Clinic55Westbury Library83Yeoville Clinic
28Wendywood Recreation Centre56Wilropark Library84Metro Centre
See also