It’s a whole new worldwide web for Cape township
Tech start-up is bringing affordable wifi to some of the province’s most deprived communities
They say you can’t get too much of a good thing, and with their thumbs on the pulse of groundbreaking new broadband infrastructure being introduced into Cape townships, Dunoon residents wholeheartedly agree.
The Democracy Cafe spaza store sees residents flocking to the counter to buy data bundles supplied by TooMuchWifi, a Cape Town-based tech start-up that promises to bring affordable wifi to some of the province’s most dire communities and compliment some of the public wifi solutions being rolled out by the City of Cape Town.
They offer highly competitive bundle rates.
“[TooMuchWifi] has definitely improved business over the last nine months,” said shop owner Abadallah Alli. “We use the connection in the shop and sell the vouchers.”
“I’m standing here to get my current affairs, man,” says resident Mark Muzamba who has just signed into the wifi hot spot at the spaza shop. “Data before was too damn expensive; I’m much happier with this wifi.”Dumisani Mahlutshana, the community outreach leader for TooMuchWifi, says bringing wifi to these communities is essential.
It operates based on the beaming of data from routers they install in various locations.
“They are looking for solutions. Bringing tech into the classrooms, you’ll see what an impact that’s going to make. It’s the kids who are taking the lead.
“The fact that so many people are denied access to Internet is concerning. It’s not all about making money.”
Almost 90% of South Africans lack access to the Internet at home (SatsSA Household report) and many have to spend up to 40% of their daily income gaining access to the Internet through cell providers.SA has some of the world’s highest data prices relative to income, according to AfricaCheck, and this is excluding a large demographic from accessing the Internet.
Economic opportunities MEC Alan Winde says the World Bank has advised that by providing Internet access to an extra 10% of a population, GDP growth is bolstered by 1.3%.
TooMuchWifi is trying to ensure that it reinvests whatever money it generates from the initiative back into the communities by retaining 30% of its revenue at the community level.
“We are committing to ensure that there is reinvestment into the communities, whether it comes in the form of salaries, revenue shares, or just assisting entrepreneurs who are looking to open up stores and businesses,” said TooMuchWifi CEO Ian Thomson.“We try to find organisations that are doing good work and assist them in growing their operations with the help of our resources.”
Mahlutshana says township residents are desperate to get online.
“There’s water running in the streets, the area is overpopulated, there is crime,” he says as he drives through crowded streets flanked by informal businesses ranging from furniture stores to hairdressers. “But being connected and included is something high on the list of priorities for them.”
Winde also said that the data records for the more than 200 public wifi hot spots rolled out by the city since 2016 show that residents are embracing the technology and implementing it in pragmatic ways.
“Wikipedia, job applications and online consultation for medical ailments are regular search targets,” he said. “This is showing us that the initiative can yield the desired results.”The city mainly targets government institutions such as schools and clinics to provide Internet access to staff and the people who use the facilities.
“You create an environment where schools can start to develop e-learning syllabuses, and hospitals and clinics can communicate efficiently with one another to refer patients and get second opinions, for example,” said Winde.
Christina Mnyoabe, 78, who runs a creche from her home, says that with resources like wifi becoming more readily available to her, she can start to realise her “big dreams”.
“I want to welcome more kids and parents into my home,” she said. “They can all come with their iPads and phones and sit in my house and be connected. The kids need wifi for their homework.”
Mahlutshana says that seeing residents actively engaged with problem solving and entrepreneurship as a result of the tech endeavours they are benefiting from, is inspiring.