Building Profitable and Sustainable Community Owned Connectivity Networks

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) hosted the first IID webinar for the year 2020, in partnership with the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) titled: Building Profitable and Sustainable Community Owned Connectivity Networks, on 31 August 2020 on Zoom Webinar.

According to Statistics South Africa’s 2018 annual General Household Survey, household access to the Internet at home was highest in the Western Cape (25,8%) and Gauteng (16,7%) and lowest in Limpopo (1,7%). While 17,3% of households in metropolitan areas had access to the Internet at home, only 1,7% of rural households in had access (0,8% in North West and 0,6% in Limpopo). Rural areas provide challenging environment to implement communication infrastructure for data and Internet based services, including high cost of network implementation and lack of customer base, low income streams, highly scattered and low population density. Installations of cables or fibre in remote rural areas is difficult and prohibitive in terms of costs.

Various policies and plans, including the 2019 White Paper on STI recognise the pivotal enabling role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in realising an inclusive and prosperous information society and knowledge economy. One of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI)’s key role is to catalyse the digital ecosystem and develop scalable models for community owned connectivity networks to replicate in other areas. The DSI has thus partnered with the University of Western Cape (UWC), the Mankosi Village community, with support from the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) to scale-up the Zenzeleni Community Owned Connectivity Networks (COCN). The Zenzeleni COCN has been in existence since 2012 and provides timely, reliable and affordable Wi-Fi connectivity to the remote rural areas of Mankosi and Zithulele in Mthatha. This COCN ecosystem offers a great potential to increase the number of people connected in the rural settings.

The webinar, facilitated by Ms Ellen Fischat from Story Room aimed to look at other models of rural and township wireless connectivity through Wi-Fi and TV White Spaces, more so in light of the COVID-19 crisis, focusing in particular on: (1) Sustainability design; (2) Replicability and scalability; (3) Revenue generation; (4) Business models and (5) Governance structures. The following speakers brought expertise from national, regional and international context:



Dr Carlos Rey-Moreno

Association for Progressive Communications (APC)- Brazil

Mr Michuki Mwangi

Internet Society – Kenya

Mr Jabhera Matogoro

University of Dodoma – Tanzania

Ms Duduzile Mkhwanazi

Consultant – South Africa

Mr Jabulani Vilakazi

Soweto Wireless User Groups – South Africa

Dr David Johnson

University of Cape Town – South Africa

Over 100 participants were in attendance from Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nigeria and from various industries across South Africa including public, private, academia, NPO/NGO and others.

@ASSAf_Official; @dsigovza; #Community_Networks; #Wireless_Connectivity; #IID