SmartCape Access Project
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Region : Africa
National GDP Per Capita (USD) : 6,377 (IMF, 2018)
City Population: 3,740,025
Year Implemented : 2002
National Gini Index : 63.0 (World Bank, 2014)
Tags : CITIZEN PARTICIPATION EDUCATION
Technologies Utilized : Wifi, Open source software, ADSL, Fiber Internet, 3G/LET, vSAT
Funding Source : Government
Project Cost :
Project Savings :
Planned Project Duration : Ongoing
KPIs : Number of library users, Number of Wifi users, Mumber of desktops
Project Context and Overview
In South Africa, there is a distinct digital divide between the rich and the poor highlighted by their unequal access to technology. The city of Cape Town decided to address the digital divide among its citizens through the SmartCape Access Project, an initiative to provide access to computers and free internet access in national libraries. Citizens that register at a public library are eligible to use computers for 45 minutes a day and receive 500mb of free data per month to be used in any public space with Wi-Fi access. Non-registered users can log in with their own devices through Wi-Fi hotspots and receive 50MB of free data. The primary goals of SmartCape are to promote digital inclusion, increase computer literacy, provide internet access to as many citizens as possible, and supply a number of productivity applications such as LibreOffice suite. The SmartCape ICT digital access platform was developed using open source software as well as multiple internet connectivity options including ADSL, Fibre, 3G/LTE, and vSAT.
Project Planning and Implementation
In 2002, the project was an initiative by the city’s Information Systems & Technology Department. The implementation of the project heavily relied on the City of Cape Town Libraries since access to computers and internet was granted on library premises, and library staff received training to assist SmartCape users. In 2003, the project was awarded the Bill and Melinda Gates Access to Early Learning Award and given a one million USD grant to expand the pilot project to all public libraries in Cape Town.
The project continues to keep costs low by making use of open source software, using refurbished desktops or thin clients, lightweight computers without hard drives, and instead of new desktops, using donated printers and network cables, and implementing additional software to manage expenses, such as print management software and supply chain management software.
The latest upgrade took place from 2016 to 2017, and cost approximately 2,800,000.00 ZAR (approx. 193,236.05 USD). The upgrade was funded by the Information Systems & Technology Department of the City of Cape Town.
As of 2017, the project saw the installment of 680 desktops and has attracted around 434,000 registered users. The city has an average of 115,000 SmartCape Wi-Fi users per week who use up to six terabytes of data per month. The city continuously makes efforts to improve SmartCape services by doing site visits, surveying users, and collecting feedback forms from users.
Recommendations for Transfer
Strong internet infrastructure and deep understanding of open source technologies was key to the success of this project. Cities with budget limitations can first implement free ethernet access through desktops, and install free Wi-Fi hotspots later as their project develops.
The SmartCape Access Project also illustrates how careful planning and cost-effective measures can go a long way in the application of smart solutions. Although SmartCape Access received a large monetary grant to expand their project, a similar project with a smaller scope would still be feasible with adequate budgeting and application of cost-effective solutions. Cost-effective measures such as using open source software, accepting donations, refurbishing used devices, and using management software can be easily adopted. Furthermore, the staff in charge of overseeing computer usage should be sufficiently trained to help users and transfer basic computer skills.
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