The internet is like the oxygen of the 21st century. Without it, you may not survive long.
So, it’s a really noble effort what companies like Facebook, Google and Project Isizwe are doing. Their quest to bring free internet access to communities in Africa and other areas where penetration is low, hopefully will produce a 100% internet connected world sometime in my lifetime.
Free WiFi will also reduce the price of high speed internet access as providers will look to lure people off the free services.
Certainly, free internet is a good thing. And as I fantasize about what a free WiFi city would look like, there are cities that already live my fantasy. Quite a lot actually. There are over a 100 cities with free WiFi, and that doesn’t even include cities in North America.
Africa has the lowest number with just five cities – Stellenbosch and Johannesburg in South Africa, Kisumu and Nakuru in Kenya, and Kigali in Rwanda. Which is surprising when you consider that Asia (which shares similarities with African) presently has over thirteen cities dishing out free WiFi to citizens.
In fact, free WiFi has shown up in interesting ways in developing economies. In Mexico, some cities provide one to two hours of free internet access (per user). If social security was a thing in most African countries, I can picture a situation where people are given free monthly internet access (maybe like 40 hours free access) as a part of their welfare package.
But regardless of the new ways we pitch free internet should be rationed out, it will still remain a pipe dream unless we have more initiatives like the ones I mentioned earlier. More companies working together with governments to provide free internet for all, would surely help the vision of a fully connected Africa.
As a parting thought, cities (and countries) are looking to ways to improve their GDP/GSP, one of the least exploited ideas is free WiFi for tourists. If all tourists visiting your city get free access to the internet, not only does that look really good on a brochure, your city comes off as forward thinking.