Development Impacts of Free Public Wi-Fi in Johannesburg

Development Impacts of Free Public Wi-Fi in Johannesburg

Judy Backhouse (United Nations University, Portugal) and Hlelo Chauke (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2610-1.ch018

Abstract

Information and communications technologies (ICTs) promise development gains, yet the complexity and opacity of the relationships between ICT initiative and development effect makes it difficult to identify these development gains or to theorize connections. This case study does both. First, it identifies the connections between the roll-out of free public Wi-Fi by the City of Johannesburg and changes that have resulted in city residents' lives. Second, it uses the choice framework to explain how these changes come about. This qualitative case study conducted interviews with users of the city's free public Wi-Fi service to understand how the service has changed the choices they have, leading to development in the sense of increased capabilities. Benefits identified included easier communications, savings in time and money, social and psychological benefits, as well as increased knowledge, business ideas, access to markets, access to job opportunities, and increased income. This study demonstrates how the linkages can be understood, albeit not in a linear fashion.
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Introduction

With the promise to address a wide range of developmental challenges, the role of information and communications technology (ICT) is becoming widely accepted as an enabler to foster development for different countries and communities (Sein et al., 2016). ICT promises opportunities to address some of the Sustainable Development Goals, yet the complexity and opacity of the relationships between ICT initiative and development effect makes it difficult to understand the causal linkages and to design effective interventions.

Trying to connect the intuitive idea that ICT is good for development with the reality of many project failures (Heeks, 2002) has been the core work of ICT for Development (ICT4D) researchers in the past four decades (Walsham, 2017). This work has resulted in useful theoretical developments which are now being operationalized in ways that provide practitioners with deeper understandings as well as practical guides that can be followed to improve the chances of success.

This chapter examines how the linkages between ICT and development can be understood, using the case of the provision of free public Wi-Fi in Johannesburg, South Africa and its development effects. First, it examines understandings of development and the role of ICT, in particular the role of internet access for development. Second, it identifies the connections between the roll-out of free public Wi-Fi to residents of Johannesburg and the changes in resident’s lives that have resulted. Third, it uses the Choice Framework (Kleine, 2010) to explain how these changes come about through increasing the choices available to residents. Finally, it reflects on lessons learned from this case that may be applicable to other ICT4D projects.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Agency: The sense and ability that an individual has to make choices and to act towards outcomes that they choose. Agency depends on the resources that individuals have access to.

Internet Access: The ability to connect to the internet including having the use of a working device, a working network, the necessary skills, the confidence to use them and knowledge of what can be accessed on the internet.

Choice Framework: The framework put forward by Kleine to explain how changes in structure and agency interact and impact on the choices that people have, leading to development ( Kleine, 2010 ).

ICT4D: The study of how information and communications technologies might or might not impact development.

Dimensions of Choice: Four elements of choice that need to be achieved in order for a choice to be made. They include awareness of choice, sense of choice, use of choice and achievement of choice.

Development: An increase in the freedom that individuals have to choose to lead their lives in ways that they value (based on Sen, 1999 ).

Structure: The collection of institutions, rules, norms, discourses and technologies that frame, enable and constrain how an individual can and does act in a particular context.

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