By Gugu Lourie
It is a known fact that most of public pay phones in the City of Tshwane are not working and others have been vandalised. A quick stroll around the city will reveal that many people are on their smart devices – smartphones, tablets, phablets and doesn’t matter if its fong kong’s smart device or not – accessing free WiFi.
There are no affordable cinemas to watch movies, but video streaming is an a cheap alternative.
But the City of Tshwane deem it fit to allow its citizens to enjoy free WiFi calls and movie streaming on a network that is being managed by Project Isizwe, an initiative led by ex-iBurst and Mxit boss Alan Knott-Craig Jr.
Knott-Craig Jr is leading the way in convincing governments to provide the continent with access to the internet through free Wi-Fi.
Kgosientso Ramokgopa, executive mayor of Tshwane, announced on Tuesday that three new services, WiFi Voice, Drive In and WiFi Chat will be added from today. WiFi Chat is a web-based platform for information and feedback, as well as a new service delivery mechanism where users can log queries and complaints.
With Wi-Fi Voice users connected to the Tshwane Free WiFi network using the WiFi Voice application, will be able to make unlimited free calls to each other and the city’s customer care line, while WiFi Drive In will enable users to watch a selection of movies including some of the latest Hollywood blockbusters, on their private devices in a WiFi Drive Inn area.
Its solution has changed the internet connectivity in the City of Tshwane (CoT) and has enabled thousands of people in low income communities to be part of the digital world. Any person can access free Wi-Fi in the CoT’s open public spaces around schools, universities, libraries, sport clubs, community centres and parks.
Project Isizwe free Wi-Fi, which was launched in 2013 in CoT, has also enabled the establishment of Wi-Fi TV, a video on demand service. Its first service is called Connect Up Tshwane, a bouquet of local content produced by young people from the greater Tshwane areas such as Atteridgeville, Mamelodi, Shoshanguve and Pretoria CBD.
The project is run by ConnectTV, a local company, and access to the bouquet is zero-rated on the free Wi-Fi network developed by Project Isizwe and via the initiative’s Tobetsa online portal. Wi-Fi TV had about half a million downloads since launch in November.
The Tshwane Free WiFi service realises the City of Tshwane’s vision of enabling every citizen to be digitally included and part of the digital economy, regardless of personal circumstance. The value the service offers to citizens in a city where connectivity is available to everyone, has established Tshwane as a true global metropole. In addition, it ensures that the City is poised for the long-term benefits of increased GDP, productivity and efficiencies from a service delivery as well as a digital inclusion perspective.
“The high cost of voice calls creates a barrier to stimulating economic growth and creating opportunity for our youth. The City of Tshwane will effectively reduce the cost of doing business in and with the city through the Tshwane WiFi Voice app,” says Zahir Khan, COO of Project Isizwe, the non-profit organisation driving the process of bringing free WiFi to communities.
WiFi Drive In will be available over weekends and offer family entertainment around thirty Hollywood blockbusters on personal devices, complemented by food kiosks, flea-market stalls and kids’ areas to offer a true family experience to enjoy content previously reserved for a privileged few. The first site will be the Fountains Valley Park and more sites will be enabled based on the model developed here.
“We envisage that this site will offer a secure environment where people can congregate and be entertained. It is important for the city to create environments for family entertainment where citizens can break away from their usual routine and engage in a unique, ground-breaking experience,” Khan says.
Project Isizwe has also allowed people to access free Wi-Fi while travelling in the cities new bus rapid transit system, A Re Yeng. The busses are equipped with a connection of 250MB of free Wi-Fi per device per day and for now is only available between Pretoria central and Hatfield and will be extended into other routes.
Since launching free Wi-Fi in the CoT, Project Isizwe has proved that it’s possible to provide open internet access to the masses. It has facilitated thousands of people in Greater Tshwane to look for jobs, access learning materials and keep in touch with friends and loved ones while on the go.
Clearly for now, Project Isizwe has delivered free internet access in low income communities in the most frugal manner possible.