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Here’s how municipalities should do free WiFi – Project Isizwe

Project Isizwe’s Tshwane Free WiFi Project is probably the standout free WiFi initiative in the country today. Featuring relatively generous data caps and loads of zero-rated content, there’s no doubt that it’s been a game-changer for many citizens.

We’ve also seen the Western Cape Free WiFi project and a few other similar initiatives pop up. But other regions in South Africa have been a little slow to get the ball rolling.

Now, Project Isizwe has published a blog post by CEO Dudu Mkhwanazi, comprehensively outlining ways that municipalities can create sustainable free WiFi projects.

“The critical importance of connecting citizens both now and in the long run has not sunk in yet. It is like having a low-income community that needs a road. They then decide not to build a road because they don’t want the ongoing burden of maintaining it — ignoring all the economic benefits of a road and what it will do to uplift that community,” the CEO explains.

Project Isizwe CEO Dudu Mkhwanazi has shared ways for municipalities to make sustainable free WiFi a reality

Mkhwanazi lists several ways that municipalities can make the service financially feasible.

The Project Isizwe executive starts with WiFi advertising, which sees ads inserted into the browser every few minutes. Another notable solution is to leverage mobile operators, with rent from mobile networks being used to fund WiFi. Fibre providers can also be used to make free WiFi a reality, Mkhwanazi says, as municipalities can insist on hotspots along fibre routes or a certain portion of fibre in lower income areas.

Other mooted solutions to make free municipal WiFi feasible include community portals, subscriptions to microjobbing platforms, subsidies from streaming services/search engines and digital/pole advertising. Mkhwanazi notes that New York City’s WiFi project has been funded by the latter.

The Tshwane Free WiFi Project, which has 600 000 monthly active users, consists of over 1000 free hotspots and delivers 500MB of data per day to each user.

Read moreWestern Cape Free WiFi: can we expect more data, better caps?

“The ongoing cost of the network is R5.85 per active user per month,” read an excerpt of a more comprehensive Project Isizwe report on the matter. However, the report cautions that there isn’t a silver bullet to provide sustainable free WiFi, as many revenue streams need to be combined.

Project Isizwe’s report also called on municipalities to avoid certain revenue streams, such as voucher systems and charging for additional data.

“The cost of sustaining a network the size and scale of Tshwane Free WiFi is about R6 per user. The cost of vouchering, administration and collecting cash works out to more than R6 per user,” the organisation said of voucher systems.

“Project Isizwe have found that once users reach their cap they prefer to buy mobile data rather than more data on the free WiFi network,” it said of charging for additional data.

“Historians will look back at providing free WiFi networks to the citizens of South Africa as the most significant anti-apartheid initiative since 1994,” the report concluded.

Author | Hadlee Simons

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings over seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More