South Africa's Project Isizwe works with local, provincial and national government levels to provide free Wi-Fi to citizens in low-income communities. The model is relatively simple, the relevant government organization subsidizes the Internet access for citizens. The main idea behind Project Isizwe is that municipalities can, in the same way they use rate-payer revenues to provide basic water & electricity to all citizens, can subsidise Internet access for residents.
Dudu Mkhwanazi, CEO at Project Isizwe.
"Everyone has a smart phone but not everyone can afford data," explained Dudu Mkhwanazi to iAfrikan.
Mkhwanazi holds a master’s degree in public policy analysis from Université Montpellier in France. She is also no stranger to working with and in the public sector as she previously held a position at the City of Johannesburg Council as the Operations Manager in the private office of the MMC of Group Corporate and Shared Services.
"We are in a digital divide and Project Isizwe’s mandate is to curb the divide with the focus on low-income communities," said Mkhwanazi.
There have been many studies which have revealed the economic benefits of Internet access for developing countries, one notable one was conducted by the World Bank. The World Bank estimates that for every 10% growth in broadband penetration there is a 1,28% multiplier for GDP.
"This means that, assuming national tax rates of 50%, if the deployment of public Free Wi-Fi is no more than 0,64% of a municipality’s annual budget, the net rates & taxes from increased economic growth will fund all infrastructure," elaborated Mkhwanazi on the model that Project Isizwe uses.
But is free Wi-Fi model as proposed by Mkhwanazi's Project Isizwe possible and sustainable?
"Everyone has a smart phone but not everyone can afford data. We are in a digital divide and Project Isizwe’s mandate is to curb the divide with the focus on low-income communities,"Dudu Mkhwanazi, CEO at Project Isizwe.
"The annual cost of bringing free Wi-Fi to all citizens of Tshwane is R92 million [approximately $7 million], or 0,28% of the city’s annual budget. Using the World Bank’s calculations that means the City makes a 10% after-tax profit on Free Wi-Fi," said Mkhwanazi.
Another angle to the model as Mkhwanzi continues to explain is that the City can incentivize ratepayers to settle their municipal accounts and use a system where users can only access Free Wi-Fi if their rates and taxes are paid.
It sounds like a relatively achievable mission, and the numbers make sense too but it is not straightforward especially considering a country like South Africa where some might argue there are more pressing needs other than free Internet access for citizens. Some of these needs, such inadequate decent housing, and poor public healthcare cannot be solved by free Wi-Fi. Free Wi-Fi does, however, have the potential to alleviate some other pressing needs such as youth unemployment.
Not only is the Internet just a tool for communication but it is also a potential source of income and showcasing one's skills and experience. With the youth unemployment rate in South Africa sitting at over 30%, free Wi-Fi could go long way in making a dent to this considering, among others, that part of seeking employment involves looking for opportunities on the Internet and submitting ones curriculum vitae, a cost many with access to the Internet take for granted.
"The vision of Project Isizwe is to have free Wi-Fi within walking distance of every citizen of South Africa," concluded Mkhwanazi.