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:

1 22 Solomon Street (Library Administration and Stores) 29 Davidsonville Clinic 57 Linden Library
2 61 Jorisson Place 30 Diepkloof Zone5 Library 58 Malvern Clinic
3 ACA Krans - Region B 31 Diepsloot Skills Centre 59 Martindale JMPD Head Quarters
4 Alexandra 8th Avenue Clinic 32 Elias Motswaledi Clinic 60 Mid Ennerdale Clinic
5 Alexandra 8th Avenue Social Development 33 Emmerencia Library 61 Midrand West Clinic
6 Alexandra Children’s Library 34 Eureka House Region F Customer Service Centre 62 Mofolo South Clinic
7 Alexandra Eastbank Clinic 35 Fairview Fire station 63 Mountain View Clinic
8 Bellavista Clinic 36 Ferndale Recreation Centre 64 Museum Africa
9 Berario Clinic 37 Florida Fire station 65 Nokhuphila Clinic
10 Bez Valley Clinic 38 Florida Library 66 Northview Fire station
11 Boskruin Library 39 Glenanda Clinic 67 Petervale Clinic
12 Bosmont Clinic 40 Green Village Clinic 68 Princess Park Clinic
13 Brixton Fire station 41 Halfway House Library 69 Proton House Call Centre
14 Bryanston Library 42 Harrison Street Call Centre 70 Randburg Civic Centre
15 CJ Cronje Region F Customer Service Centre 43 Hikensile Clinic 71 River Park Clinic
16 Cosmo City Fire station 44 Hodgensen Fire station 72 Riverlea Clinic
17 Cosmo City Library 45 Ivory Park Library Lord Khanyile 73 Riverpark Library
18 Crosby Clinic 46 Jabulani Civic Centre - Region D 74 Rivonia Library
19 Crown Gardens Recreation and Clinic 47 Transport Department - Sauer Street 75 Roodepoort Civic Centre
20 137 Daisy Street - Region E Customer Service Centre 48 Lenasia South Civic 76 Roodepoort Library
21 Rosettenville Clinic 49 SAPPI Building 77 Soweto Empowerment Zone (Business Opportunity Centre)
22 Sandown Clinic 50 Sol Plaatjies Clinic 78 Teljoy Building (Region A Customer Service Centre)
23 Sandton Library 51 Sophiatown Clinic 79 Tladi Clinic
24 Sandton (Marlboro JMPD) Traffic 52 Southhills Library 80 Weilers Farm Clinic
25 Sandton Traffic Customer Service 53 Soweto Country Club (Golf Estate) 81 Weltevreden Park Clinic
26 Wemmer Complex JMPD 54 Westbury Clinic 82 Witpoortjie Library
27 Wendywood Clinic 55 Westbury Library 83 Yeoville Clinic
28 Wendywood Recreation Centre 56 Wilropark Library 84 Metro Centre
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