Cape Town aims to lead the way as first truly digital city in Africa

November 22, 2015, 11:06am

Cape Town residents Dorothy Pieterson and Hilton Esau watch the sunrise from a bridge in Cape Town’s central business district in this February 14 2014 file photo. Picture: THE TIMES

By Patricia De Lille, Business Day Live

BROADBAND connectivity is fundamental to creating an enabling environment for economic growth, development and inclusion.

The City of Cape Town is committed to making our city a digitally inclusive one in the most sustainable way possible. This approach is rooted in our quest to lay the foundation for our residents to access opportunities that will enable them to thrive economically on a global scale.

Our approach to consolidating the City of Cape Town as a digital city focuses on digital government, digital economy, digital inclusion and digital infrastructure. Three projects derived from this are the rollout of broadband, the provision of free Wi-Fi zones and a pioneering Open Data Policy.

We will invest R1.7bn over seven years in our city’s Universal Broadband Network strategy, which is geared to rolling out municipal-owned broadband infrastructure throughout the metro. We have already spent R504m on construction, which started in February 2010. The optic fibre cable route is roughly 700km in length, containing 43,541km of optic fibres. The capital budget allocated for this project for the current year is R185m, with financial benefits yielding R176.8m.

The city’s ownership of broadband infrastructure differentiates our approach from those of other metros.

First, it enables us to meet the city’s own needs for telecommunication services. The city’s corporate network is now 3,000 times faster and 240 city-owned buildings have been connected. Second, we have been able to attract nine licensed third-party service providers that have taken up some of the spare infrastructure capacity to render services to third parties and thereby increase competition in the telecommunications market.

Other metros have chosen to rent the telecommunication infrastructure they require. This means they are unable to use this new class of municipal infrastructure as a strategic lever to help achieve their social and economic objectives.

The city’s investment in broadband infrastructure has in fact saved money, avoided costs, and earned revenue totalling R440m since its inception in 2010. Similar to buying a house instead of renting it, we are able to rent our infrastructure to the private sector. The income we receive from this transaction is then ploughed into underserved areas, where we install infrastructure so that the network can be expanded to previously disadvantaged areas through our Digital Inclusion Project.

This project seeks to make use of infrastructure to expand the availability of broadband to the public, specifically by installing Wi-Fi access points at public buildings that are used by commercial operators to deliver services, and also includes a daily complimentary data allowance for residents, provided by private sector partners.

Some 189 access point zones at 73 widespread locations across the city have now been installed. The city currently has 381,000 unique clients that have used the Wi-Fi, with 80,000 users a week consuming 4.4tb of data per month. These areas include Khayelitsha, Mitchells Plain, Bellville, Delft and Nyanga to name but a few. Wi-Fi zones will be installed at about 30 additional locations during this financial year (2015-16).

We are also currently exploring the feasibility of offering free Wi-Fi on the fleet of MyCiTi buses. A tender to contract with a service provider was evaluated in September and has now been awarded by the city’s supply chain management bid adjudication committee. This requires the appointed service provider to offer internet access to passengers at no cost to the city. We hope this initiative will encourage people to get out of their cars and onto public transport to ease traffic congestion.

The third prong in our approach relates to the Open Data Policy, which was approved by council on September 25 last year. The policy provides for the establishment of an open data portal through which all the city’s data will incrementally be released to the public. The aim of the policy is to make the city’s data available to all for free and in a useable format, to enhance transparency and promote the use of the city’s data for broader social and economic benefit.

The Open Data Portal currently has 47 datasets available for download, which has thus far been used by researchers and university students, small businesses focused in the information field, professional consultancies, nongovernmental organisations and application developers. The target is to add 40 more datasets on the portal in this financial year through the processing of suggested datasets received via the portal, as well as through continuing internal review of city datasets that could potentially be made available.

The national government has acknowledged these ground-breaking strides. The Department of Public Service and Administration is planning a national open data platform and has asked to learn from our experience in implementing the portal and possibly link its open data portal to the city’s portal in future.

We believe we have found a way to use technology and innovation to play a role in redressing the economic and spatial exclusion of the past. By choosing longevity and sustainability over short-term strategies, we are confident that we will be leading the way as the first truly digital city in Africa.

• De Lille is mayor of Cape Town