Internet access must be a human right
There is no question that technology has the ability to solve some of the challenges faced by township dwellers and those living in low-income settlements, including their transformation into more inclusive microeconomies. This is particularly true of South Africa’s digital divide, which is exacerbated by unequal broadband distribution.
While the middle class spends an average of 0.15% of their income on Wi-Fi and data, low-income South Africans spend up to 21% of their income on data, making always-on unattainable for most. This prevents them from accessing information about education, employment, entertainment, engagement, and general services, among other things. This harsh reality is leaving millions behind, barring them from entering and contributing to the economy, and locking them in a web of unemployment and inaccessibility through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is rapidly creating new technology-based jobs .
This is a farce that must be addressed if we are to close the digital divide and prevent it from widening, especially among the youth, almost 50% of whom are unemployed.
This need is so crucial that access to the Internet is included in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 9) of the United Nations. Its vision is to significantly improve access to information and communication technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in the least developed countries. Achieving this, however, requires large investments in information and communication technology (ICT) among the local population, especially in poor communities or rural areas.
Luckily, there are solutions, and data costs are falling with all ISPs. But it’s still not enough, especially considering that according to the latest Household Affordability Index for February 2023, the price of an average shopping cart costs R4,928.34 a month. This far exceeds the monthly subsistence level of R624 per person, ie the amount of money a person needs to buy food to survive.
Add in the 18% electricity rate hike effective from 1 April 2023 and the expected increases of R2.44/litre petrol and R3.35/litre diesel over the next month – not to mention the steep interest rate cycle in which we are in now and the resulting surge in inflation – no wonder so few can afford data or digital devices.
To overcome this, TooMuchWifi has spent the last seven years bringing communities access to extremely affordable Wi-Fi through its uncapped and hotspot options. With currently 400,000 customers – individuals and SMEs – already using its service in 40 locations in the Western Cape, TooMuchWifi gives poorer people the chance to be part of the ever-expanding online world where the middle and upper classes live and work.
With this in mind, TooMuchWifi made the business decision in November 2022 to reduce prices by 43% to help consumers and small businesses stay connected. That price cut is here to stay and was the engine of the recent hyper growth that tripled monthly sales. The new fees allow customers to save R300+ per month. Current prices start at R295 per month for uncapped lines and R5 for hotspot top-ups.
The company, which is backed by Mineworkers Investment Company (MIC), which owns 24% of TooMuchWifi, is now looking hard to grow its customer base by expanding its nationwide footprint, with a goal of within two to four years Africa to expand years. To achieve this, the company has secured a significant amount of debt and equity financing.
Co-founder and outgoing CEO, Ian Thomson, laid the groundwork for a highly scalable organization that will reach people across South Africa and ultimately the world by providing access to extremely affordable Wi-Fi.
The business has grown exponentially by 300% year-on-year and my highly skilled team and I are now strategically planning to expand our operations so we can reach exponentially more people. Access to the Internet is not a goal of sustainable development for nothing; It is a human right that can greatly improve lives.
From the small spaza shopkeeper to the 16-year-old studying for exams, access to Wi-Fi is vital for human survival, especially as we enter the era of 4IR and AI evolution. Being internet, literate and literate are essential life skills if people want to get ahead and improve their lives and income.