Iziko Connect, a social enterprise providing free internet connectivity to under-served communities, is planning to extend to 20 sites in Chris Hani’s Cacadu, Cala, Engcobo and Cradock areas over the next eight months.
The company has four wireless internet hotspots in Enoch Mgijima and one at the Cofimvaba taxi rank. The project, which began in August, is in its pilot phase and is expected to conclude by March.
“We offer an hour session free, unlimited download and upload speed. After this session, users can login again at any one of our sites in Sondlo Street (Mlungisi), Buffalo Road (Komani Park), Yolo Lounge, Boundary Pub and Cofimvaba Shopping Centre.”
At this point, Cawe said, Iziko Connect was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Xesibe Holdings (Pty) Ltd, an advisory, insights and content development firm, currently underwriting the costs of the pilot.
“We really hope we can get the development financing institutions and the public sector to co-invest in the solution to scale it in the district and beyond,” he said.
Cawe said despite the high levels of smartphones in the Eastern Cape, internet penetration was much lower than other rural provinces.
“The Living Conditions Survey released by StatsSA tells us that only 12.7% of EC households have access to the internet, compared with 21.2% in Limpopo.”
Iziko’s aim was to overcome internet cost barriers, giving an alternative to costly data from the telecoms players by bringing local businesses into the digital world and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Cawe said Covid-19 had highlighted the importance of internet access including to rural areas, which can be a game changer for businesses, employees, job seekers and students. He said to avoid digital divide, more investment was needed.
But SA still had a long road to travel.
“I have done some work for MTN for the launch of 5G. It is clear in the fights between the US and China that 5G is here and will change the game in terms of connecting to rural areas.”
But before 5G, migrating from analogue to digital needed to be overcome and the satellite solutions currently deployed at Iziko Connect, were quite expensive. He added that before 5G, connection policies needed be addressed.
“Our appeal to business owners is to embrace digital and measurable forms of communication and advertising and, in so doing, expand connectivity to our people,” Cawe said.