The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in South Africa and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) launched the first pilot of CSIR’s Television Whitespace (TVWS) Technology on 4th May 2021 to enable low-cost internet to the Mdantsane community in the Eastern Cape.
The Launch Event was held in Mdantsane and involved representatives from the Mdantsane Local Council, The Black Business Forum, Progressive Blacks in Information and Communications Technology, The Small Enterprise Development Agency and members of the Mdantsane community.
In her address, Ms Klariska Moodley, the Head of Experimentation at UNDP indicated that the drastic and sudden shift to digital engagement during the COVID 19 pandemic had impacted all businesses and sectors. “It has been strongly argued that access to technology and digitisation, including universal access to broadband Internet, are regarded as human rights issues since they redefine access to work, income, and schooling during the COVID-19 lockdown.”
To overcome the widening digital divide and reduce inequality, poverty and unemployment, UNDP South Africa financed the pilot of CSIR’s TVWS technology and SMME support programme. This project will enable internet connectivity to 2400 users via public facilities and an additional 1600 users via public hotspots. Additional communities in KZN, Free State, and Western Cape will form part of this pilot.
Ms Moodley also expressed sincere appreciation to the Government of Japan for funding the project and supporting UNDP to positively impact the lives of South Africans. During his address, Dr Fisseha Mekuria, Chief Research Scientist at CSIR highlighted that “as the CSIR, all the research we do should impact society and with that aim we collaborated with UNDP”. Dr Mekuria indicated that SMMEs across South Africa competed to participate in the SMME Network Support Programme. Through this programme, local SMME network service providers were trained on TVWS technology. Dr Fisseha expressed his happiness that Mdantsane Mobile was one of the SMMEs that won. Through the SMME support programme, 4 small businesses in the selected pilot districts were supported to roll out the TVWS technology. In addition, CSIR is developing sustainable business models to ensure the viability of the SMMEs long into the future. Dr Fisseha also emphasised that “the lessons learned in Mdantsane during this pilot can help us expand internet all across Africa, as the African region is in dire need for better connectivity”
Mdantsane Mobile, the SMME trained and tasked to implement the TVWS technology in Mdantanse was proud to launch the internet network. The CEO, Mr Songezo Mhambi, was honoured to be able to give back to his own community and participate in the project. Dr Luzango Pangani Mfupe, Principal Researcher at CSIR handed over the ownership certificate of the network infrastructure (built as part of the project), to Mdantsane Mobile. Ms Moodley highlighted that the provision of affordable internet access, particularly in rural areas is expected to play a role in South Africa’s economic recovery by enabling SMMEs to shift towards digital operations and enhance access to markets, finance and services that are required in a post COVID-19 economy and thereby empowering women and youth-owned businesses”
It is envisioned that a range of services will be made possible within selected pilot locations through the provision of internet, such as rural school connectivity, distance learning, remote information services (health/education/elections), Internet of Things (i.e. smart agriculture, smart villages), telemedicine, and E-Financial services. As part of UNDP’s endeavour to leave nobody behind, UNDP SA recently committed additional financial resources to scale this pilot project, expanding internet access through CSIR’s TVWS technology to an additional 10 communities across South Africa.
As a development organization, UNDP extends an invitation to other stakeholders to foster strategic partnerships and jointly secure additional resources to help ensure that low-cost internet is rolled out to more communities around South Africa. UNDP SA wishes for this project to touch the lives of those who need it the most. The hope is that this project goes beyond the provision of physical access, but enhances access to social, educational and economic opportunities. In so doing, the project aims to transform South Africa into a more equitable and prosperous society.