Hashtags have germinated with #feesmustfall propagated to become #datamustfall. However lobbyists, despite good intentions, haven’t done their homework and the cost of data reducing in price is not the answer.
According to Alan Knott-Craig, founder of Project Isizwe, if a student in a low income community were to download online lectures using 3G data at out of bundle rates of R1, it would cost over R170,000 per annum.
“The average university course comprises of 12 modules of 32 hours each,” he says. “That equates to a total of 384 hours of lectures a year.
“At present, Vodacom’s out-of-bundle 3G data rate is R1/Mb. Assuming an average video quality of 480p, the total cost of viewing a year’s worth of lecturing would be R177,408,” says Knott-Craig.
This is unaffordable for almost all students, rich and poor alike. South Africa has the second highest data contract prices in the BRICS member countries, coming second only to Brazil.
“Even a 10x reduction in data costs would result in data costs that are out of reach of the average student,” Knott-Craig says. “The answer is for the government to start subsiding free WiFi in poor communities.”
WiFi could become a political issue, he adds. During the 2016 local government elections, political parties promised to provide free WiFi.
A study released last month by BMI-TechKnowledge indicated that most metros in South Africa already offer free broadband Internet access through WiFi hotspots. There are around 2 100 public hotspots, of which nearly 80% are in Gauteng.
Tshwane has established Tshwane Free WiFi (TshWifi), the largest municipal free WiFi in Africa, allowing students in low income communities to access 500Mb of data for free, every day, at average speeds of 15Mbps. There are over 1 000 free wi-fi hot spots with 1,6-million unique users on the system.
Myles Thies, head of strategic services at Eiffel Corp, says that by using online learning platforms, the need for bricks & mortar buildings can be reduced, spreading the costs of lecturers and learning materials over a potentially unlimited number of students, rather than only those that can fit into a lecture hall, and provided they can access a free WiFi account.
“Online learning, specifically video learning, allows for the costs of lecturers, selected learning materials and assessments to be spread over a much wider student base without increases in infrastructure spend using well established video sharing and hosting providers. This ability to share the same lecture with hundreds or even thousands of students at the same time could reduce the fees required per student to cover the total production costs of that lecture to a much smaller figure,” says Thies.