THE contract of Project Isizwe with the City of Tshwane to provide free wi-fi will be extended by six months to allow the municipality more time to craft a new financial model for the service.
MMC for corporate services Cilliers Brink made the announcement during the monthly ordinary sitting of the council last Thursday. At the meeting councillors were given feedback on the City’s progress in acquiring the wi-fi infrastructure owned by Project Isizwe.
ANC councillor Joel Sindane said it was important to keep the wi-fi services intact for the benefit of the people of the capital.
He pleaded with the City to look into the safety of wi-fi users who often access the service in open-air places, where they were vulnerable to crime. “We have experienced a lot of cases where children have reported cellphones being snatched,” he said.
He suggested the City erect shelters for users to be protected against cellphone snatchers.
Sindane said the former ANC-led administration entered into an agreement with Project Isizwe to bring a better service to communities.
EFF leader in council, Benjamin Disoloane, expressed happiness that his party had been able to push for the City to assume ownership of wi-fi infrastructure.
“It will help students across the region, but we are also urging the mayor that the technology must be extended to areas where it is not available, especially in places such as Hammanskraal, Soshanguve and Atteridgeville,” he said.
ANC chief whip Aaron Maluleka said the official opposition had cautioned against discontinuing the free wi-fi.
“Free wi-fi is not a vanity project where we are wasting money. The two streams we must focus on is to have cost-effective free wi-fi and expand on revenue generation.
“If you can achieve the two, you would have a free wi-fi that can speak to anything that you would like to achieve,” he said.
But Maluleka questioned the ability of the City to manage the wi-fi infrastructure while it was unable to fix potholes and street lights. “You want to take a hi-tech project like wi-fi and make sure that the City runs it. I can tell you that the revenue that you are targeting to get from free wi-fi you are not going to get,” he said.
Brink said: “This is one of the uncontroversial issues because there seems to be an agreement that free wi-fi is good and it extends into the connectivity of folks who would never have had it otherwise.
“That is why from the beginning mayor (Solly) Msimanga made an announcement that we would do everything in our power to retain free wi-fi and to even expand it.”
The City was still grappling with addressing the auditor-general's finding that the law was not followed when a tender was awarded to Project Isizwe to provide the wi-fi service. “We can’t have a single service provider that owns free wi-fi infrastructure forever. That situation needs to change. We need to put this free wi-fi network as an asset of the City out to tender so that everybody has an opportunity to contribute to the project,” Brink said.
It was not easy to keep free wi-fi, he said, but it took political will and concerted efforts to do so. “We are extending Project Isizwe for another six months. In that time the administration must put together a tender document for a new model so the City can become one of the contributors to expanding free wi-fi services."
The original contract between the City and Project Isizwe dates back to 2013. It emerged last year that it has since cost the municipality R320million.
The City’s intention to put the service out on a tender was announced last June in anticipation of the contract expiry in December 2017. At the time, Project Isizwe head Dudu Mkhwanazi said the service provider had no intention of competing for a tender after its contract with the City ran out.
She said the company would focus on replicating the project in partnership with other municipalities. According to her, there were 3.2million users relying on the service for free internet access in the city.
Brink had previously expressed concern about a sustainable funding and infrastructure model for free wi-fi.
The City could not continue to pay Project Isizwe on the same basis as in the past, he said, and further expenditure on the wi-fi had to be justified in terms of supply chain management laws and regulations.
The City had put aside more than R8m for wi-fi, but there was a need to find a sustainable way of funding it, he said.