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US-based NGO splashes R440k to connect Limpopo community

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Internet Society has awarded a grant to its South Africa-Gauteng Chapter to open a media centre in Mamaila Village, Limpopo.
Internet Society has awarded a grant to its South Africa-Gauteng Chapter to open a media centre in Mamaila Village, Limpopo.

US-based non-governmental organisation Internet Society today announced a R440 000 investment fund to connect a rural Limpopo community.

In February 2019, the organisation introduced the Internet Society Foundation, where it focuses on funding initiatives that strengthen the Internet in function and reach so that it can effectively serve all people.

The foundation promotes the development of the Internet as a global technical infrastucture, a resource to enrich people’s lives, and a force for good in society.

The organisation, which aims to connect the world to the Internet, announced that it has awarded a grant to the South Africa-Gauteng Chapter to open a media centre in Mamaila Village, Limpopo.

This is one of the foundation’s 13 ground-breaking projects that seek to spread the benefits of the Internet around the world.

The $30 000 (R440 000) grant aims to improve the lives of its members through access to information and upskilling.

Arduous undertaking

Local operators have often shunned connecting rural areas in SA as ordinarily, rolling out telecommunications network infrastructure is an expensive and arduous undertaking for both fixed and mobile phone companies.

Premeshin Naidoo, sector head for telecommunications, media and technology at Absa, comments that innovative solutions such as active network-sharing, tax incentives and new technology deployment can be the solution to achieving feasible rural connectivity in SA.

“Investors expect an attractive return on investment, and the tendency is for operators to concentrate investment in high population density areas where there are more customers than in rural and outlying areas with sparse population density,” says Naidoo.

“They also see little commercial incentive to invest in rural connectivity given generally lower revenue potential per subscriber.”

Government also initiated SA Connect, an ambitious project that aims to deliver widespread broadband access to 90% of the country's population by 2020, and 100% by 2030.

However, SA Connect’s progress is moving at a snail’s pace, leaving a lot of rural areas still unconnected.

Internet Society says in addition to the off-the-grid media centre, which will provide Internet access in a remote area with no access to telecom operator services, the much-needed funding will enable the Mamaila Tribal Authority to install WiFi access points within the community.

The grant will also develop the community through training on cyber security, content development, entrepreneurship, and the construction, operation and maintenance of community networks.

This will ultimately empower unemployed youth to organise themselves into cooperatives to advance their socio-economic aspirations and expand the planned network infrastructure, says the organisation.

“This is our concerted effort to help drive growth and development, especially while South Africa is grappling with one of the highest level of unemployment (29%) in the world and a shortage in critical skills,” says Yandisa Sokhanyile, chairperson, marketing and branding at the Internet Society South Africa-Gauteng Chapter.

“After receiving more than 40 applications from around the globe, and an almost three-month process of intense revision and analysis by a committee, we selected 13 winning projects located in South Africa, Turkey, Dominica, Canada, Armenia, Paraguay, Hong Kong, Portugal, Switzerland, USA, Nicaragua, Madagascar and Mali,” says Sarah Armstrong, executive director of the Internet Society Foundation.

Internet for everyone

The foundation awards grants to Internet Society Chapters, as well as non-profit organisations and individuals dedicated to providing meaningful access to an open, globally connected, trustworthy Internet for everyone on one or more of the following programme areas:

  • Initiatives that build community capacity to access and benefit from the Internet (including digital literacy skills, reaching unconnected populations, awareness-raising and local content-production);
  • Initiatives that respond to natural disasters;
  • Opportunities for research across technical, economic and public policy topics;
  • Initiatives that demonstrate innovative techniques to advance an Internet for all; and
  • Local and regional projects supported by Internet Society’s nearly 140 Chapters (Beyond the Net).

In early 2020, the Internet Society Foundation will launch its next call for grant applications for projects that strengthen communities and improve lives and livelihoods.

Naidoo believes achieving rural connectivity can potentially not only achieve government’s universal access to telecommunications objective, but also boost rural economies, most of which desperately need a catalyst for growth and development.

“We need innovative thinking to achieve ubiquitous high-speed rural connectivity in South Africa. It is a global phenomenon as much as it is an issue in Africa. There is, therefore, a need to consider implementing new solutions to create a network of connectivity that gives broader geographical reach.

“In as much as we look at traditional connectivity technology and investment strategies, there is a limitation and, beyond that, we need to look at other solutions,” he concludes.

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