The concept of creating digital cities or metropolitan network areas is fast gaining interest across the world. Interest in SA comes from a wide spectrum of industry participants, particularly as a real opportunity to begin closing the digital divide presents itself. Worldwide trends have shown that municipal networks may serve as a strategic lynchpin in bridging the digital divide by providing services to citizens via municipal broadband networks.

Recent media attention focused on Google, the Internet search engine and portal, and its application to supply the city of San Francisco with free WiFi, or wireless Internet connectivity. This would allow anyone in the city to connect to the Internet free and has brought the issue into the spotlight once again. In SA the cities of Tshwane, Cape Town and Knysna have announced their intentions to roll-out their own wireless and fibre optic networks, which would give users free or low rate broadband Internet access.

The driving force behind the establishment of roughly 600 digital cities and municipalities around the world has been the shift in the need for connectivity especially from a cost point of view. The growth

in digital cities has been widely regarded as a major disruptive trend in the global telecommunications sector. In addition the opportunity for service providers exists as the majority of municipal networks are managed in public private partnerships (PPPs).

Argument in favour of government-sponsored broadband networks of equal importance in respect of digital cities will be the need to develop and harness applications which will be of benefit to the citizens and the municipality as a whole. The most likely applications to be developed will be for the emergency services such as the fire brigade, ambulance and police. These networks provide a relevant and powerful option aid SA bridge the divide. National government has placed service delivery as the number one priority in the political agenda and municipal networks can play a huge role therein.

More broadly, municipalities are viewing the wider benefits of wiring cities as a means of injecting interest and innovation into businesses, enabling them to seamlessly conduct business with others across town and across the globe. The telecoms sector may simply regard the new municipal network as being another competitor, but diversity in the delivery of cost effective solutions should always be welcomed – particularly in our part of the world.

ITWeb Market Monitor