Neotel, CDF to drive social-economic change in SA using tech

cape digital foundation neotel round table september 2016

Using technology to drive education, social-economic development and ultimately the country’s future growth isn’t just a governmental issue. This according to the Cape Digital Foundation (CDF) and Neotel.

The non-profit CDF — which is committed to “improving access to technology and digital opportunities in the Western Cape”, and the decade-old telecoms held a joint media round table Thursday morning, to discuss the challenges surrounding South Africa’s digital growth.

And while Neotel has pledged its commitment to continued development in the country’s broadband rollout, it also suggests that more yet needs to be done.

“Neotel is committed to this [the CDF] as long as possible,” explains Neotel’s chief of networks and services, Imran Abbas.

“This isn’t only about Neotel. It cannot be a government only initiative.”

Neotel’s broadband rollout

With that said, Neotel has contributed extensively to broadband rollout in the country.

Etienne Stroebel, Neotel’s GM of advance solution delivery, gave us some rough numbers of the programme’s second year accomplishments.

The company has rolled out broadband access points to a total of 1400 sites thus far. Its end goal is 1964 sites, a target that should be met by March 2017. These sites include the likes of schools, hospitals, libraries and other gathering points across the province.

Neotel plans to complete its current bandwidth rollout in the Western Cape by March 2017, servicing over 2000 sites in total

384 WiFi hotspots have also been rolled out to “underserved communities”. Ultimately, these moves have resulted in mass data usage by the sites served — at least schools and libraries.

Between 2015 and 2016, schools used nearly five times more data, while libraries enjoyed a four-fold increase in data. This is largely thanks to a speed bump by Neotel, from 1Mbps to 10Mbps.

Beyond the bits and bytes

But while the infrastructure is there, the director of CDF Mymoena Williams stresses that it’s more than simply a build and they will come scenario. The problem requires a multi-faceted approach, building a sustainable social-economic framework around these centres. She used the term “ecosystem”.

“While the commitment from government, business, educational institutions, and civil society is very real, the lack of cohesion among their investments sadly dilutes the impact,” she elaborates.

Mymoena explains that creating a data-hungry society is the ultimate goal of the Cape Digital Foundation.

“We have many examples where companies with the best intentions have donated computer labs or tablets, only t6o discover when we follow up months later that the lab or the tablets are lying uniused. In these situations, it’s usually because the teaching staff were not properly trained to use the equipment in the content of the curriculum.”

This issue extends beyond the classroom too, as the CDF and Neotel explained, creating ecosystems in rural, impoverished and bandwidth-stricken areas.

Neotel also announced it has committed an additional R1-miilion in funding to the CDF to help solve these issues.

“We believe that an integrated and collaborative approach will ensure that investment in technology in regards to socio-economic development has a game changing impact and gains real impact,” Abbas concludes.

Andy Walker, former editor


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