THE Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture is failing in the roll-out of WiFi services to libraries across the region, despite being responsible for the implementation thereof for more than a year now.
“This lack of implementation is taking opportunities away from communities that cannot afford the high cost of data and rely on public access to the internet,” says Nomvano Zibonda, DA MPL in the Eastern Cape Legislature.
“The shift to digital is growing at a rapid pace, with everything from school work to job applications increasingly dependent on web access.
“To deny library users this right is to deny them these important economic opportunities.”
Responding to a parliamentary question, DSRAC MEC Bulelwa Tunyiswa confirmed that the roll-out of WiFi is a competency of her department, but that they had received support from the National Department of Arts and Culture, through a third-party service provider, up until last year August.
However, since this contract ended, no new company has been contracted to provide WiFi to libraries.
MEC Tunyiswa goes on to say that the Department received, and has subsequently spent, a conditional grant of R1.2 million in the last financial year to assist with the roll-out of WiFi services at libraries.
“It is not entirely clear what exactly the R1.2m was spent on, if no contractor has been appointed to provide internet services for over a year. The MEC says the funds were not allocated per library, but rather spent on infrastructure and internet services,” says Zibonda.
Kouga Municipality Mayor, Horatio Hendricks, says, “The municipality is equally concerned about the situation.
“Public internet facilities at libraries were previously provided by the Sarah Baartman District Municipality, but they stopped this service last year before DSRAC was in a position to roll out its wi-fi programme.”
According to Hendricks, it remains unclear when the Department will be rolling out WiFi to local libraries, as per its mandate.
“The municipality has, therefore, been looking at ways to step in and provide this service,” he says.
“An audit has been conducted to determine whether the municipality’s current internet infrastructure has the capacity to handle the extra load should it also be used to provide public internet facilities.
“Our findings show that the current bandwidth used by the municipality would not be able to handle a sharp increase in users. The computer equipment and infrastructure at libraries are also outdated and need to be replaced.
“In the short-term the municipality will, therefore, only be able to provide limited public internet facilities should this service be completely dependent on the current municipal infrastructure.”
He concludes, “We will, however, continue exploring ways to fully re-instate this service to the public, despite it not being a municipal competency, as it is an important means of empowering communities.”