The Internet has become an essential component in our daily lives, on par with other basic needs such as housing, water & electricity. Due to the fact that, the Internet provides access to a wealth of information and knowledge, and the possibility to participate, communicate and facilitate trade. Despite the importance of the Internet, only about 40% of the world’s 7 billion people are connected to the Internet today. This articles aims to highlight the importance of having Free Internet in Namibian public spaces, for example Parks, Malls, village centres and alike. Furthermore, we explain how free public Internet will benefit communities especially those who are without access because of the digital divide.
Over the last 10 years we have seen major expansions in telecommunication network, infrastructures and broadband coverage in Africa; driven by the rapid international connectivity through WACS (West Africa Cable System) and EASSy (Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) submarine cables. This development in telecommunication infrastructure has ensured that we have enough bandwidth to make free Internet available in all public spaces especially in rural and impoverished areas. Free Internet in public spaces has the potential to become the greatest equaliser, enabling people to be informed, and allowing entrepreneurs in rural areas to extend their services beyond their communities.
However, opponents of free Internet claim that Internet can never be free because there’ll always be cost associated with it. Due to the fact that someone needs to pay for the cost of maintaining the infrastructures, and other cost incurred. The economic and social benefits that free Internet will present outweigh the cost implications of providing free Internet access.
About half of Namibia’ population lives in rural areas where there is limited access or no access to the Internet. Access to free wireless Internet in public spaces is vital, in order to reduce the number of unconnected people. Therefore, breakdown the digital divide, which has created a huge disparity between the haves and the haves not. Subsequently, it will enable those who are poor to have free access to information and the many opportunities, which comes with the Internet.
The dominance of telecommunication companies, such as Telecom Namibia, MTC is seen by many as threat to free public WiFi. Another challenge to public space consisting of free Internet is the increasing trend to regulate the Internet. The later may not be a challenge here in Namibia, as we do not have Internet laws to date, however many developed nations are facing a challenge of restricting the net. These poses important questions about how we choose to organize and regulate our digital societies, and how Internet governance models can be developed and implemented to ensure fair and democratic participation.
Despite the restrictions in many countries especially in Europe, some countries have managed to move beyond fallacious arguments aimed at restricting the Internet. Estonia, a tiny country which came out of the shadow of the former Soviet union (USSR) to become a technologically advanced country and a world leader in E-Governance is great example of a country that has transformed her Internet laws and made free Internet a reality. Estonia has made Free Internet available for everyone, not only in public space but also through out the entire country. And this was key to the success of digital government in Estonia. Free Internet didn’t only enable the Estonian government to make all public services available and accessible but it also allowed Estonian startups to sell their solutions and products as a service beyond their national borders.
Without knowing, some critics reading this will say that Estonia is a European country, and thus cannot be compared to Namibia. Hence it’s not possible for Namibia to achieve what Estonian has achieved in the last 20 years. Despite Estonia being a European country, Estonia is a small country with a population of only about 1.4 million people and no resources. But Estonia has position herself as a leader in terms of E-governance, with all government services available online. Namibia has a lot to learn from countries such as Estonia.
It has always been my believe that, beside a few goods that we can make from our mineral resources, there is nothing new we can manufacture or produce that has not been already produced somewhere in the world. However, Namibia is well positioned, neighbouring land-locked countries, and has a potential to become a logistic hub, providing transportation services though out SADC via the port Walvis Bay. The Internet will play prominent role in the logistic hub, as it will not only facilitate the service driven economy but will also enable different entities to transact.
Coming back to the African continent, Rwanda under president Paul Kagame has made a lot of strides in providing free Internet throughout the capital Kigali. Kigali became the first city in East Africa to launch free wireless Internet as part of the “Smart Kigali” initiative, enabling Kigali to join the ranks of “digital cities” such as Barcelona, Toronto, Houston, Buenos Aires, Bangkok, Tallinn and Taipei. This puts Rwanda ahead in the digital race in East Africa, giving it a competitive edge over Kenya’s much-hyped Konza City, which is yet to take off since the launch early in 2012.
Rwanda is a good example that with political will, African economies are able to transform and free wireless Internet is possible. The digital revolution or fourth industrial revolution presents opportunities for African nations, including Namibia to leap frog the key stages of industrialisation. Therefore, become competitive on global level.
Connectivity attracts business in this digital economy, and it is up to us as nation to think beyond just mere luxury for those who in power. Building a new Parliament will not benefit this country in anyway, but providing free Internet in public spaces, thus connect citizens of this great land of the brave will proliferate business and tourism activities. It will also enable government to deliver equitable services to all members of the Namibian house.
Lameck Mbangula Amugongo is country Ambassador of 1 Billion Africa in Namibia. He holds B.IT: Software Engineering, B.Hons: SoftwareDevelopment (Cum Laude) and currently pursuing MSc.