Tshwane’s free Wi-Fi project needs a lifeline

Free Wi-Fi in Tshwane.

Tshwane’s free Wi-Fi has helped many young people connect to the world of work and business.

The City of Tshwane yesterday gave an undertaking that it would do everything in its power to save its TshWi-Fi project and to even expand the quality and the reach of the current service, but maintained that it is simply not possible to sustain its full subsidy for free Wi-Fi indefinitely.

Member of the mayoral committee for corporate and shared services, Cilliers Brink, said in the 2017-18 financial year, the city budgeted R88.5 million for the provision of free Wi-Fi.

Brink said it would also not be possible to fund the expansion of the network on its own in the long term without the support of commercial investment and partnerships.

The cost for the rollout of 11 phases, up to June 2016, was R320 million, with actual expenditure to date for 2016-17 at R78 million.

“With the short term of free Wi-Fi secured, the ingenuity of the private sector now becomes crucial in the long term,” Brink said.

Tshwane’s free Wi-Fi has helped many young people connect to the world of work and business. This has been a game-changer for communities where private internet access is a distant hope.

However, Brink said it is crucial that the new Wi-Fi budget be spent wisely and that the mistakes of the previous city administration that endangered the project were avoided.

He added that Project Isizwe, the current Wi-Fi implementing agent and a non-profit company, agrees with the city’s commitment to good governance.

“After months of negotiation with Project Isizwe, in what were extremely difficult circumstances for both parties, the city believes we can take the first important step to securing the future of Tshwane’s free Wi-Fi. In so doing, we will also respond to findings by the auditor-general against the way the service was initially procured by the previous city government,” he said.

The auditor-general found that the contract for this project, signed by the previous administration led by former mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa, amounted to irregular expenditure, as the contract was entered into unlawfully.

The city and Project Isizwe have, in the meantime, agreed to amend the contract to maintain the quality and the reach of the current free Wi-Fi offering.

“This agreement will run until December 2017, to enable the city to put the operation and maintenance of the free Wi-Fi service out to tender.

“In the meantime, the city and Project Isizwe will continue to test the commercial potential of free Wi-Fi as an advertising space, and all revenue raised in this manner will accrue to the city,” Brink said.

He said the details of how the free Wi-Fi network will be operated by a service provider other than Project Isizwe will be finalised in the next four months to allow for proper supply-chain management processes to be followed.

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