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Digital divide hits township hard

By   |  September 22, 2005

Last week, president of the SMME Forum, Tebogo Khaas, caused a stir at iWeek when he told delegates there are no ADSL installations in Soweto — one of the country\’s best developed townships just outside Johannesburg.

Khaas told the conference that Telkom was failing to provide Internet access to people living in townships and urged industry to pressure the government and Telkom into enabling a more competitive environment.

Khaas says the information had been gained by doing a random survey of known exchanges in Soweto. \”We are currently embarking on a full-scale survey of the whole of Soweto.\”

More disturbing though is the fact that there appear to be no immediate plans to offer ADSL services in the township. Punch in any of Soweto\’s dialling codes into Telkom\’s DSL Availability webpage and the words \”not on the roll-out plan for the immediate future\” are likely to glare back at you in black and white.

But it is business owners in the area who offer the most vivid account.

Owner and director of the Soweto Technology Project, Tom Baloyi, says running an IT training company in Soweto without an ADSL connection is proving to be very expensive. \”In this line of business you can\’t run a business without the Internet,\” he says.

Baloyi\’s business experiences the digital divide first-hand. While he can only get a dial-up connection at the Soweto branch of his training company in Diepkloof, he has an ADSL connection at his other branch, just over the N1 highway in Ormonde, near Gold Reef City in southern Johannesburg.

\”Having an ADSL connection is fantastic; the only snag is when the ADSL drops and crashes,\” says Baloyi.

Restaurateur Senwelo Mautloa, who runs the Masakeng Pub and Restaurant, says he could do with a faster connection to update his restaurant\’s website, advertise and do basic Internet tasks. \”Dial-up is expensive, it\’s very slow sometimes and the dial-up takes forever,\” says Mautloa.

\”Most people in Soweto, whom I know that run businesses aren\’t really interested in ADSL connections. Some due to misunderstanding, ignorance, some think it\’s expensive. Basically there\’s a general lack of information,\” said Mautloa.

But Khaas says that there is a demand for ADSL in Soweto. Members of the SMME Forum who are based in Soweto had told him that they had applied for ADSL, but had been denied by Telkom, he said.

Telkom Product Manager for ADSL Carel Wentzel says that previously disadvantaged areas such as Soweto usually have a low demand. \”Where there\’s a high number of Internet customers there\’s high density, and we cannot go against industry trends by offering ADSL to low density areas,\” he said.

Telkom officials said they would provide data on the ADSL rollout in South African townships, but failed to send the information to Tectonic before publication.

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