Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

AS CAPE Town’s broadband infrastructure project gathers momentum, residents of the city’s largest township, Khayelitsha, are ready to take full advantage of the benefits of cheaper and more accessible internet.

But many feel more needs to be done to educate the community about the project itself as well as how to utilise internet technologies.

Cape Town has invested R150m in broadband infrastructure and over the next seven to 10 years it is expected that the province-backed project will cost R1.3bn, according to the city.

The authorities say that, in addition to improving the municipality’s high-speed data communications and making internet services widely accessible, the broadband infrastructure will be the key to driving economic growth and development.

During former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s visit to Cape Town last year, the US Trade and Development Agency signed an agreement for a grant of about R2.5m to fund research into the "prospective benefits" of providing wireless internet to residents of Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha.

The city and provincial government have set themselves an ambitious target to give citizens in every town and village in the province access to affordable broadband infrastructure at a minimum network speed of 1,000Mbps (megabits per second) by 2030.

Last year, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille said the province aimed to create the largest mesh network in the world within the next two years. This project will connect all households in Khayelitsha, Mitchells Plain and Saldanha Bay, including the proposed industrial development zone.

Demetri Qually, Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for corporate services, says the Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain areas are a high priority for the city because the existing telecommunications infrastructure there is unreliable and cannot cost-effectively meet the requirements of the city or the provincial government. "To this end, the city is currently undertaking a feasibility study in partnership with the US Trade and Development Agency which will examine the various options and benefits of making wireless internet available in these areas."

During this financial year, broadband will be rolled out to city-owned buildings in Khayelitsha, Mitchells Plain, Ndabeni and the southern suburbs. The city has confirmed that Telkom has asked to use part of the network, which could also bring down the cost of broadband.

Since the city began installing broadband on its own lines, it has saved R25m on its communication costs, Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille said last year. At one point the city had an annual communications bill of more than R100m, she said.

Zweli Nokhatywa, the marketing manager at Silulo Ulutho Technologies, a Khayelitsha-based company that provides information technology-related products and services, including computer skills training, says one of the main benefits of a broadband roll-out in townships will be the reduced cost of communicating.

"However, we feel a lot of people here do not know about the city’s project and why they should care about it. I think the city and the provincial government should invest in campaigns to educate people on this project," Mr Nokhatywa says. Silulo Ulutho Technologies’ computer skills and training services target the youth and middle-aged township residents of the Western Cape.

Mr Nokhatywa says that it is also imperative for the city, together with the provincial government, to focus on educating people on how to make use of internet technologies, "otherwise the broadband infrastructure in the townships will become a white elephant".

He says the availability of broadband would also help "eradicate poverty in the townships" by encouraging entrepreneurial activity.

"However, all this will be dependent on education. Do people know the full range of benefits?"

Mr Qually says that the availability of high-speed telecommunications services in areas where it was not previously available, and at much reduced rates, will stimulate economic growth by supporting entrepreneurial activity.