Free internet zones to be rolled out for public spaces

5 Isizwe 200x300 Free internet zones to be rolled out for public spaces

Free internet zones have been launched in Gauteng and the Western Cape.

Business owners may soon be able to access free internet following the roll-out of pilot projects in Gauteng late last year and more recently in the Western Cape.

The free Wi-Fi pilot projects, first launched in Pretoria, already provide free internet access to about 24 000 people, says Tim Human, project manager at Stellenbosch-based non-government organisation, Project Isizwe.

The project’s aim is encapsulated in its slogan “Free Wi-Fi for Africa”.

The organisation seeks to provide free Wi-Fi access to those across the country in low-income areas by assisting local, district and provincial government in their plan to roll-out and maintain free Wi-Fi networks.

A free Wi-Fi network node at a public access point is known as a Free Internet Zone (FIZ), where any user can get free and immediate access without needing a password to log in.

Says Human: “At the moment, we work with local government municipalities to roll-out our free internet zones, so we will cover municipalities and provinces in a piece-meal fashion as agreements are put in place. There is no set plan for a national roll-out as yet.

“Already eight Free Internet Zones will be rolled out at eight low-income schools in the Western Cape, with four each in Atlantis and Robertson by July this year, also catering for numerous aspiring and growing businesses in the areas,” he adds.

This follows the organisation’s successful application to assist the government in its efforts to take free Wi-Fi to the province’s poor communities, with already over 20 000 people expected to benefit.

The Western Cape’s pilot reach “has been impressive, there’s been a lot of wireless activity since the project’s launch”.

Human points out that his organisation’s non-profit structure allows it to source bandwidth and local installers without the traditional excessive mark-ups.

“We facilitate an end-to-end service to benefit communities through education, economic development and social inclusion,” he explains.

An anonymous online survey on the organisation’s website on the free connection reveals that the project brings convenience to the daily work routines to those it reaches.

Users responded by saying the service helps them to stay up to date, communicate with people and access work related e-mails, while some users use it for work purposes such as email.

Human says the first phase of the Pretoria project is already in operation, with five Wi-Fi spots around Tshwane North College, Mamelodi Community Centre and Church Square in the Pretoria CBD.

The second phase of the pilot project is expected to be launched in July this year.

To benefit from the offering business owners need only to have a wireless connection via a laptop, cellphone or a custom-made device  to tap into the free connections.

However, users will be governed by a fair usage policy. This means that each user’s internet access will be capped to 250 megabytes per device per day at an average speed of one megabyte download.

On net content, which does not require breakout to the internet, has unlimited usage to users.

Network security will be put in place to prevent user abuse of the service and access to prohibited websites.

Although a national roll-out is not yet on the cards, the second phase of the initiative is expected to see a further 213 free internet zones rolled out in Soshanguve, Mamelodi and Atteridgeville.

These public spaces could be around schools, universities, libraries, sports clubs, community centres and parks.

, Tim Human

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