200614. Cape Town. Premiere of the Western Cape Helen Zille photographed at her Leeuwenhof residence ahead of the SOPA at the Provincial Legislature. Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus

Cape Town - The Western Cape will get 384 wireless internet hot spots to inject new life into the economy, says Premier Helen Zille.

The annual State of the Province address was due to begin at 10.30am on Friday, and the most significant announcement was a deal signed on Friday morning to secure free wi-fi for all.

“One of our main priorities is making the Western Cape a leader in broadband access,” said Zille.

“This is essential if we want to grow the economy, create jobs and become internationally competitive.

“Over the past two years our broadband project was delayed by the enforcement of national compliance requirements, which threatened thedelivery targets we set ourselves. This has been a source of intense frustration.”

But all this changed this morning when the provincial government, the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) and Neotel signed a deal to provide broadband services to 2 000 government sites, including schools, libraries and health facilities.

“By May 2016, all sites will be connected with minimum speeds of 10Mbps (megabits per second) under this agreement,” said Zille.

“By August 2018, most sites will be connected by fibre-optic cables, with 90 percent of sites enjoying 100Mbps speeds and 10 percent enjoying 1Gbps speeds.

“Neotel has… generously committed to funding the infrastructure rollout of 384 wi-fi hot spots, using Western Cape government buildings, which will cover almost every ward in the province. Our government will be subsidising the free portion of citizens’ internet access.”

The hot spots would be rolled out over four years.

“We believe the roll-out of these hot spots will be a game-changer for development,” said Zille.

“It will help reduce the digital divide, make economic opportunities more accessible and generate new business opportunities.”

She said the provincial Department of Economic Development and Tourism would set up a new business incubator to support entrepreneurial talent and aspiring “techies” in disadvantaged communities to develop software and innovative applications.

Neotel had also committed to spending about 25 percent of the value of its contract with local companies. “They will use a number of small businesses as well as local labour during the construction of the network, creating jobs throughout the province,” Zille said. Neotel had agreed to provide seed funding for a Western Cape Broadband Foundation which would focus on “leveraging private-sector contributions and funding to help deliver innovative broadband-related services as widely as possible”.

A guest at today’s event was Sunil Joshi, the chief executive of Neotel, and Zille told him: “We look forward to working with you and with Sita to deliver this ground-breaking project over the next few years.

“I would like to thank Mr Freeman Nomvalo of Sita in his absence for helping us cut through the endless reams of red tape.”

Neotel is described on its website as “a telecommunications network operator that caters for wholesale, business and home customer needs”, delivering “services that reduce the cost of doing business through the optimal use of advanced technologies”.

It adds: “We are South Africa’s first converged telecommunications network operator. This means that voice, data and internet is now offered over a single connection.”

The company’s strategic equity partner was the Tata Group of India, which “brings immense expertise derived from its worldwide telecommunications operations”.

Nexus Connexion was the company’s black economic empowerment equity partner, and “has a broad-based constituency which includes women and youth groups”.

Cape Argus