South Africa's Free State Provincial Government and telecommunications company, Cell C, have announced their partnership which they hope will pave the way to public access Wi-Fi for the province’s citizens. The two organizations have signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) which spells out how Cell C’s public access Internet hotspots will be rolled out around the province and supported by Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi platform.

Facebook Express Wi-Fi offers users a free, but limited and what some have called a watered down version of the Internet.

“We are pleased to be working with the Province in the first stages of this proposed project. Cell C’s aim is to bring as many South Africans as possible into the digital economy and give them every advantage through the technologies we can provide,” said Douglas Craigie Stevenson, CEO at Cell C.

Who should be responsible for providing Internet access?

It goes without saying that the Internet and the World Wide Web have become an important part of modern life. From education to finance, the Internet has been proven to improve the economy of any country where it is widely and constantly available at affordable prices. However, the question sometimes arises: who should be responsible for providing Internet access to citizens, should it be private companies, the state, or a partnership between both?

This is an important point given that the United Nations declared Internet access a human right and that, without Internet access, many people stand the risk of continuing to be left behind as the income gap widens. Many models have been suggested including local governments like municipalities taking the responsibility of providing Internet access as they do with water and electricity while charging citizens at a price that is affordable or already incorporated into their rates and taxes bill. The other model is what is already happening, leaving it entirely up to private organizations to provide Internet access, however, as we've seen with South Africa's #DataMustFall movement, when left to their own devices, telecommunications companies will maximise profits at the expense of ensuring wide spread and affordable Internet access. The other model, which is similar to what has been announced by Cell C and the Free State province in South Africa, is that of a private-public partnership.

“We firmly believe that there is a positive correlation between the availability of internet access and the social and economic advancement of communities,” said Sisi Ntombela, Premier of the Free State.


Cover image credit: Cell C Head Office in Johannesburg, South Africa.