Pietermaritzburg communities switch on to free WiFi

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Six locations in KwaZulu-Natal’s Pietermaritzburg have been turned into free WiFi hotspots as part of a proof of concept of the JL Dube Broadband project that was unveiled on Thursday.

The hotspots are located in Vezokuhle Primary School in Edendale, Edendale Youth Centre, Msunduzi Taxi Rank, Msunduzi Library, Gateway Clinic and Umgungundlovu District Municipality.

According to KZN’s Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA), 48% of the households in the province access Internet via cellphones, 13% via other mobile services, 10% via libraries, and 8% via place of work.

Furthermore, only 9% of the households have access to the Internet in their homes.

Through the JL Dube broadband project, the KZN province will provide free WiFi to the communities in Pietermaritzburg that have always battled to access the Internet.

In terms of the long-term plan for the project, the province is looking to create job opportunities, create self-sustaining SMMEs and support women-owned SMMEs to be Internet service providers.

Joined by EDTEA MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube and other provincial officials, communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams switched on the JL Dube broadband tower that will provide free Internet access in those communities.

Ndabeni-Abrahams stated: “We are grateful that we are launching this proof of concept and bringing a tower to showcase the usage of technologies and different services that are offered. Our young people, even those that are unemployed graduates, now have an opportunity to participate in the digital economy and gain digital skills.”

Dube-Ncube added: “We are going to be continuing with this project in the rest of the province through the rollout of broadband. What is also exciting about this project is that we are able to create jobs.”

Smart province ambitions

Overall, the vision is to turn KZN into a smart province through the digital infrastructure, according to the MEC.

EDTEA, together with its entities Dube Trade Port and Moses Kotane Institute of Technology, have joined forces with Broadband Infraco (BBI) and Mzansi ComNet to rollout out a cost-effective model of broadband infrastructure.

Dube-Ncube explained: “We are using the existing contract with SA Connect and BBI to ensure we provide the backbone for broadband access, particularly in underserviced areas of our province.

“This work has been made easy by our Dube Trade I-connect. This is our province’s cloud offering. It provides a world-class telecommunication platform which incorporates an advanced, high-speed metro Internet network, voice and broadband and digital links.

“As we rollout broadband throughout the province, township and rural-based youth and women-owned co-operatives and SMMEs will be Internet service providers. Our plans involve teaching them how to install and maintain telecommunications infrastructure.

“Others will be empowered to sell affordable voice and data services. These will be much cheaper than what is offered by the big mobile operators.”

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