In its quest to become a world-class city, Johannesburg in South Africa has taken significant steps towards bridging its digital divide and meeting challenges such as climate change.
When you visit Johannesburg, you see two worlds that exist side by side.
On the one hand, you see evidence of a robust economy, fueled by a strong financial sector and a lucrative precious minerals industry. On the other hand, you see a city that faces enormous social challenges, including 20 percent of residents that still live in informal dwellings or lack running water. Needless to say, access to high-speed internet has not been a forgone conclusion. But that's changing fast.
Together with the City of Johannesburg we have entered into a unique public-private cooperation to establish a city-wide, high-speed-broadband network that will stimulate socio-economic development throughout the city and meet challenges such as climate change. When it's ready, the Johannesburg Broadband Network Project (JBNP) will be the largest fiber optic network in sub-Saharan Africa.
The JBNP is about bridging the digital divide and bringing connectivity to nearly all city residents, including the many underserved communities of Johannesburg. But what this network really represents is opportunity.
When I have talked with elected officials from the City of Johannesburg, they all say the JBNP is a huge step towards addressing the city's digital divide. Their hope is that over the next five years, the city will make a lot of progress in social areas, education, healthcare and entrepreneurship because of their investments in ICT.
At first the network will connect hundreds of city buildings, including administrative offices, schools and libraries but over time, the idea is to offer high-speed connectivity directly to enterprises and individual households - in many cases free of charge. This can be used for video and/or web conferencing, for example, which can reduce transportation needs in the city.
The JBNP will also be a future source of revenue for the city council.
Today, Ericsson is managing the day-to-day running of the network but over time, responsibility will be transferred to the City of Johannesburg, which will enable it to sell high-speed connectivity directly to residential customers, organizations and businesses.
The changes that the network will bring represent a quantum leap of progress. They will provide opportunities and innovation possibilities to citizens, organizations and business that will be interesting to follow.