Last weekend, I stumbled on the Project Isizwe website. Project Isizwe is a non-profit organisation, which is offering free WiFi in low income communities in South Africa. Their work is driven by the belief that each citizen should be within walking distance of Free WiFi.
In a Project Isizwe Free Internet Zone (FIZ), you access the WiFi with no passwords or logins. You just connect, click and surf! These zones are usually in open public spaces around schools, universities, libraries, sports clubs, community centres and parks.
As of July 2015, the city of Tshwane, which was the first area to embrace the philosophy of Project Isizwe, had a network of 633 Free Internet Zones. This network has enabled over 720,000 unique users to get online since it launched in November 2013, who are benefiting from access to online information for education and economic opportunity among many other benefits.
Project Isizwe has also deployed networks in Thohoyandeu, Robertson, Atlantis and Lusikisiki. Recently, Project Isizwe has partnered with Open Society Foundation of South Africa to deploy Free Internet Zones in and around the Gugulethu and Khayelitsha taxi ranks in Cape Town.
Project Isizwe implements a fair usage policy by limiting data access to a maximum of 250MB per device per day at an average speed of 1Mb/s download and 256kbps upload. On the other hand, content hosted locally, is provided with unlimited usage to all users.
Many times, we are misled by thinking that one has to be millionaire in order to get involved in this kind of work. No, that should not the case. If we are to wait until we reach that stage, we will not be able to do anything for our people.
A popular Japanese proverb says Even dust, when piled up, becomes a mountain. The little insignificant things that we do as individuals, if put together, can create very big things. Remember the Wisdom of an Ant and Wisdom of Ant Part 2! I presume it is in line with this understanding that the Project Isizwe group thinks that anyone regardless of social status, educational accomplishments, wealth, and other attributes, has a role to play in this kind of projects.
Some ways you can get involved with Project Isizwe and make an impact on the intellectual capital of our continent are as follows:
- Private citizen: As average citizen, you can make a small donation or register to be kept informed about their progress. This is also a way for them to let you know about opportunities to help them and volunteer.
- Companies and Brands: If you represent a company, you can provide funding or the unused portion of your bandwidth, thereby increasing the Web speeds for the FIZ in your locality.
- Government officials (I assume it is limited to RSA at the moment) : If you’re a Local, District, Provincial or National Government official, you can provide sites, bandwidth and funding wherever possible to setup a FIZ in your area.
- Schools and Universities: You can provide FIZ sites and bandwidth wherever possible. Universities with large data centres can provide access to cached international websites, thereby lowering our dependency on undersea cables and speeding up the Web in FIZs throughout the country.
VERY EXCITING DEVELOPMENT! OTHER COUNTRIES IN AFRICA CAN EMULATE THIS!
Project Isizwe is definitely an exciting development. One thing that I like about Isizwe is that they make their philosophy very clear from the onset of the project. That way it is easy for others to identify with them, embrace the philosophy and be part of this kind of work.
Project Isizwe is currently focusing on South Africa. But in their web pages, there are some hints showing that this project will eventually become a continental project. This can easily be accelerated if some people from other countries in Africa can grasp the vision and run with it.
I am not based in South Africa, but I am already seeing myself as a strong supporter of this kind of project and I would like to see it spread across Africa like a wild fire. When I shared the idea with some of my Malawian friends on Twitter. They just applauded it but they quickly pointed out that it cannot take place in Malawi because we do not have the resources.
On the other hand, when I read about how Mxit was sharing its unused bandwidth with the local communities in the Stellenbosch municipality to offer Free WiFi in public spaces, I get the feeling that Free WiFi Zones can be achieved even the poorest countries on the continent. We just need several unselfish people who really want to do things for the common good.
By using proper technology tools, the idea of sharing unused bandwidth can even be done at household level. These days, we have the WiFi service in most of our homes in the cities and towns in Africa. We pay a flat monthly rate for it. Most of the times, we do not use the entire capacity.
Sometimes, we are out for the whole day. We even go for holidays and the whole bandwidth remains unused. We can easily give away our unused bandwidths. Some intelligent software tools can be developed in order to allow non-profit organizations like Project Isizwe to access those unused household bandwidths and use them in Free Internet Zones (FIZs).