Government announces massive internet connectivity drive ahead of the elections

  • The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) has announced that it plans to connect 1.5 million rural households to the internet by year’s end.
  • It is part of a larger plan to connect 5.5 million households over the next three to four years.
  • Connectivity will be provided in the form of WiFi hotspots being erected in rural areas and townships.

As we have seen in recent weeks, the closer the 2024 national elections get, the more politicking there seems to be by the ruling party. The latest announcement concerns the ever-widening digital divide in South Africa and the fact that regular and stable internet connectivity remains out of the reach of many citizens.

To that end Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Mondli Gungubele, said government plans to connect 5.5 million households in rural and township areas to WiFi hotspots in the next three to four years.

He added that in the more immediate term, his Department planned to connect 1.5 million rural homes via WiFi hotspots by the end of the year, during a recent media briefing.

The minister also pointed to some of the work that the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) has done this year.

“We are dedicated to bridging the digital divide by providing Wi-Fi access to communities and ensuring universal access to the internet. This year, we have connected over 740 000 households to the internet, enabled by the installation of 4 250 Wi-Fi hotspots,” he explained.

“This work involved the participation of 76 Internet Service Providers, which are Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs), and resulted in 4 500 direct jobs, and many more indirect jobs and opportunities downstream,” Gungubele added.

While it remains to be seen what kind of cost accessing this soon-to-be erected WiFi hotspot network will entail, it looks like the SA Connect platform will play a key part, along with it providing a potential idea of pricing for internet connectivity.

“Where our flagship programme, SA Connect, visits, villages are left connected to the internet at an incredibly affordable rate of R5 a day per 1 Gig, and as little as R250 a month on an unlimited package,” said Gungubele.

Quite frankly that is still out of the reach of many South Africans, especially given how much is given by government in the form of social relief grants at the moment. There is also no mention of what will happen for those on the move within a township or rural area, and where each new hotspot that is being connected to will carry its own separate cost.

One of the other aspects that the DCDT is internet connectivity for the education sector.

Here Gugunbele says that his department has focused its attention on, “enabling learners in rural schools to be connected to the internet and are equipped with skills to ready them for the future through State Information Technology Agency (SITA) Cyber Labs – a privilege previously reserved for urban schools.”

“We have so far launched these smart schools in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Eastern Cape, the North West and Northern Cape provinces, with more yet to be established in other parts of the country. In addition to the computer laboratory and equipment that comes with it, learners receive skills training in robotics, coding and digital skills,” he concluded.

It will be interesting to see whether the aforementioned 1.5 million households will receive their internet connectivity by the end of 2024, especially after the results of the May national elections are known.

[Image – Photo by Dreamlike Street on Unsplash]


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