BY 2017, every citizen in Pretoria, including those in the most impoverished areas, will be within walking distance of free WiFi – and Port Elizabeth will be next, with city-wide free WiFi on the cards by 2018.
So far, 840 000 of Pretoria’s three million citizens have accessed free WiFi through Project Isizwe, the non-profit organisation founded and headed by Alan Knott-Craig junior, with the aim of making WiFi as accessible as water or electricity, particularly to the poor – and not just in South Africa but throughout Africa.
“I want everyone in Africa to be within walking distance of WiFi . . . I want Nelson Mandela Bay to be the first metro to copy Tshwane,” said Knott-Craig, who has been in talks with mayor Danny Jordaan and others in the municipality. He was in the Bay this week as the main speaker at the Professor Les Simpson Legacy Lecture at his alma mater, NMMU.
Knott-Craig started the NPO not long after being voted out of mobile social network Mxit by his partners in 2012.
He was CEO at the time and it was a crushing and expensive blow.
When he started getting back on his feet, he decided to do something that would make a difference – to make his three daughters proud of their dad – and Project Isizwe was born.
He had already done the groundwork while at Mxit, by setting up a pioneering free WiFi service in the heart of Stellenbosch, where he lives, with the support of the local municipality.
However, Project Isizwe is more about taking free WiFi to those who cannot afford to buy bandwidth.
“Twenty million South Africans have the internet, while 35 million South Africans do not,” he says in a book he is working on about “Tshwane Free WiFi”, the name given to Isizwe’s Pretoria project.
“Inequality can be dealt with by bridging the digital divide. Internet access allows people to find jobs . . . e-mail CVs, start online businesses, download digital textbooks.”
Two-and-a-half years into Project Isizwe, it has been more successful than he ever imagined.
The project has revenues of R250-million a year, more than 100 staff members, 750 active WiFi sites and has so far reached 840 000 people.
In “Tshwane Free WiFi”, Project Isizwe partners with municipalities, setting up free WiFi points in municipal buildings (such as schools and community centres) throughout the city, to which it channels excess bandwidth flowing through the existing network of fibre-optic cables.