Tshwane to expand free wi-fi network to underprivileged communities
Pretoria - The City of Tshwane will go ahead with plans to launch new wi-fi sites to give free internet access to underprivileged communities.
However, the City will not disclose the names of small businesses contracted to the project to avoid accusations of favouritism.
This is according to chief of staff Jordan Griffiths following the announcement that local small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) were involved in the wi-fi site maintenance and installation process.
He said that information regarding contractors had been withheld to avoid opening the City up to "litigation" from companies that might have lost out in the tendering process.
"Generally we don't communicate formally about businesses that are in the space. It is not something that we would be comfortable going on record with, because we would come across as showing favouritism when we are saying these companies (are part of the project).
“It could open litigation for us when we are talking about companies from a political sense,” he said.
However, he disclosed that there were 52 SMMEs supporting the City's work on the fibre network.
Previously, the network was managed by a company called Project Isizwe, contracted to the City in 2013. It emerged in 2018 that the municipality had spent at least R320 million on the contract.
The then shared and corporate services MMC, Cilliers Brink, now an MP, then questioned the rationale behind having "a single service provider that owns free infrastructure forever".
"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,” he said at the time.
There were also concerns that the City's funding model was not sustainable.
The free wi-fi project started during the ANC-led administration and was championed by then mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa, who envisioned making the country's capital city a global cyber capital.
EFF regional leader Moafrika Mabogwane welcomed mayor Randall Williams’ move to bridge the digital divide in communities across the metro through the wi-fi initiative.
He said: "We support the wi-fi roll-out. We don't have a problem with it as long as it won't be done at exorbitant prices. We are supportive of the initiative so that our people can have access to the internet, because we are living in the Fourth Industrial Revolution."
The Pretoria News reached out to the ANC for comment, but the official opposition had yet to respond.
Williams indicated that plans were afoot to launch more wi-fi sites in Pretoria, adding that the information and communication technology (ICT) unit would soon identify areas in which to roll out the project.
"In the last quarter of this financial year, the City will launch newly installed services at sites that the ICT department will identify. The City will also install monitoring systems at high sites to reduce the vandalism of infrastructure, and to avoid network outages," he said.
Currently the public network mainly utilises radio links infrastructure, which can pose challenges like reliance on high sites.
"The City is in the process of migrating hot spots to fibre where infrastructure is available. This move will improve the reliability, speed and stability of the network,“ he said.
Williams also celebrated the fact that the public wi-fi, known as TshWi-FI, had already been increased to 1 466 hot spots "to provide internet access to its citizens, in particular the less privileged communities within Pretoria and in order to bridge the digital divide".
The hot spots were active in all seven regions, and were found in common public areas such as schools, parks, shopping places, community halls, customer care centres and public transport facilities.
"Currently, more than184 000 residents use the public wi-fi every month, and the biggest users are students who use it for, among other things, research and assignment purposes," Williams said.
Each wi-fi user is provided with 1GB of data bundle per device per day, and uncapped access to research and educational sites.
"During the 2020/21 financial year, the City planned the installation of 60 wi-fi hot spots. These hot spots include five clinics, 20 educational centres (schools and tertiary institutions), and 35 other various community centres (shopping centres, parks and libraries)," Williams said.