The internet is experiencing explosive growth.
It is also ever more apparent that it is impacting and changing not only the way information is transmitted and consumed, but also transforming a lot of activities such as banking, health, transportation, education and entertainment.
In South Africa, you can see the phenomenal surge and the impact of the internet on the growth of a number of industries such as online radio, digital publishers, online recruiters, app developers, etc.
Despite this growth, in a country like South Africa, at present, the Internet remains an elitist medium.
The masses are prevented from enjoying the full benefits of internet access as data costs are very high in the country, which has led to the birth of #DataMustFall campaign.
While South Africa has made significant strides in telecommunications to achieve world class mobile telephony infrastructure, there is a growing divide that is leaving the majority of potential users in the dark ages of technology. For more read: SA’s information poverty threat
That said, some telcos are looking at ways to bridge the digital divide in our country.
VAST Networks (VAST), Africa’s first open access Wi-Fi provider, is set to give 1.5 million Gauteng township residents an affordable alternative to access the Internet.
Currently, in over 2,000 high-density locations in transport hubs, malls, office parks and townships across South Africa, VAST is focused on providing more South Africans with an option for affordable internet access.
“Our partnership approach continues to be a critical component of expanding our network coverage and delivering quality and speeds that are of the highest standards. We pride ourselves on the fibre-quality internet we are able to provide our Wi-Fi users, especially those in high-density areas,” says Grant Marais, CEO at VAST Networks.
Subsequently, ubiquitous internet access for all South Africans was a key theme of a roundtable discussion hosted by VAST in Diepsloot today.
Together with industry, community and media representatives, VAST further explored barriers to internet access and potential solutions that could support the commercial and individual opportunities that come with connectivity.
With affordability being a key inhibitor to internet adoption, specific emphasis was placed on underprivileged communities and how Wi-Fi access could boost entrepreneurial activities, supports access to education, enhances skills development and drive job creation.
“We are cognizant of the tremendous opportunities for socio-economic empowerment, specifically within township communities. Our current footprint includes over 2,000 venues and is growing daily in locations in areas such as Diepsloot, Alexandra and Katlehong with plans to roll out hundreds more by mid-2017,” adds Marais.
“My customers are thrilled to have access to the internet and are using the platform for various purposes from job applications to news updates to staying in touch via social media,” Collen Kekana, co-owner of V-Café (home to a VAST hotspot) in Diepsloot said.
“What always puts a smile on my face is when they realise that their internet speeds are actually faster than those available in some of the more affluent suburbs.”
In the connected world, internet is a human right
“We firmly believe that internet access should be a basic human right. The substantial financial benefits of such access are evident with some of the fastest growing and most successful businesses in the world being mobile device manufacturers and founders of social networks,” says Marais.
“Not only does internet access deliver individual and business value, but it also plays a vital role in overall economic growth; stats show that for every 10% of internet penetration, a country’s GDP grows by 1.28%,”