The City of Johannesburg has taken back control of its 990km of fibre optic cables and intends rolling out free, high-speed internet to townships and in all public spaces to unleash entrepreneurial potential and to create jobs.
Ravin Naidoo, the city’s Executive Director of Economic Development, says Johannesburg is recognised as “the most competitive city in Africa, but we need to be competitive globally. One of the easiest ways to do this is to improve productivity through ICT broadband and high-speed connectivity”.
That means greater Johannesburg’s residents will be able to access the net along all the Rea Vaya routes, in libraries and other public areas.
Naidoo says he’ll need an army of Jedi knights to ensure ordinary people become aware of the benefits and potential of being connected.
Hundreds of youths are being inducted into the City of Jozi Educational Digital Interns (CoJedi). Once the initiative is rolling, their job will be to spread out into their communities to show people how to access contracts, facilities, government services and information on State tenders.
The programme aims to train 1 000 students each year to enable them to become employable or start SMMEs. As payback, they operate as outreach ambassadors, says Zolani Matebese, the City’s Head of Broadband.
The city took control of is Johannesburg Broadband Network (JBN) after the council approved the creation of a municipal-owned entity (MOE) to run it.
This followed the cancellation of the contract with Ericsson SA, which won it in 2010 but later ceded it to CitiConnect Communications.
Initiated in 2006, the project was designed to integrate the City’s telecommunications platforms, lower operational costs, increase access, lower costs of communications for residents and allow access to areas which were previously not connected because they had no fibre network.
Matebese said once all the outstanding issues surrounding the cancellation had been resolved, the JBN would become “an absolute game changer” for both the City and its residents.
“We’re competing with countries that built huge capacity that was then concessioned and that’s why you can get such cheap prices internationally where basically they’re faced with over supply,” Naidoo says.
Matebese said after the conclusion of the termination and transition arrangements, the City would obtain full control of BWired, the operating entity created to implement the project.
“This exciting development accelerates the City’s ability to fast-track its Smart City programmes. The 990km of fibre-optic cables that have been rolled out provide us with backhaul infrastructure capacity to internet service providers and mobile operators, removing the entry barrier for smaller providers and capital expenditure for larger ones,” said Matebese.
“We’ve hit the ground running and are already making headway in rolling out several Smart City initiatives,” he said.
Matebese said after the termination the City was released from the obligation to pay R279 million a year over 12 years, allowing it to realise a 20% annual saving.
Small businesses will also benefit, Naidoo says. In the past small businesses were not able to use cloud technology due to a lack of bandwidth.
“We are particularly concerned that the poorest parts of the city have the lowest access. It’s about 20% in the poorest areas, precisely where they need support.
“The idea is it pays back to the city, helping people get a job and we’re hoping this will also help rejuvenate the CBD and bring life back to the city because people will want to be there. So it’s a smart development because it’s an economic generator. If I have a small business in a poor area, I will now get services that will genuinely contribute to me becoming competitive,” Naidoo says.
“We can deliver so much more now that we have the broadband platform. Small businesses and all other users will now have access to a wide range of applications and services that were not previously available. Poor and undeveloped areas have also benefited,” he said.
So far, the City has:
- Rolled out 54 Wi-Fi hotspots, all on the Rea Vaya T1 and T2 routes and 20 are mobile hotspots (buses);
- Ensured internet access in 30 libraries, with 80 libraries to be connected by June 2016;
- Installed several hundred smart meters; and
- Launched the Jozi Educational Digital Interns (COJEDI) initiative and Hack Jozi Challenge.