Google quits free WiFi programme three months after launch

By Cornelia Le Roux for The South African 

The search engine giant’s free WiFi service was launched in 125 locations across Langa, Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Delft, Elsies River, and Philippi, in Cape Town in November 2019.

During its Cape Flats launch announcement on 7 November 2019, Google’s Next Billion Users Initiative head of partnerships Adama Diallo said: “Google Station is here to connect the unconnected in SA.”

However, only three months into its WiFi hotspot programme, Google Station, the search engine has changed its tune, saying it will discontinue its service aimed at making the internet more accessible to low-income communities.

Think WiFi to handle SA operations
According to Google Station, it will hand over all South African operations to its partner Think WiFi through 2020.

“We are transferring our Google Station operations in South Africa to Think WiFi who will now carry out the project independently,” a spokesperson told Business Insider SA.

Its foray into providing free internet access to the Cape Flats, formed part of its global initiative to offer fast, free, open access internet to people affected by high unemployment and crime rates in countries, such as Mexico, India and the Philippines.

Google said that it had to re-evaluate its plans due to “complex and varying technical requirements across countries and partners”.

“Since we first started, the ecosystem has evolved and combined with complex and varying technical requirements across countries and partners, we have been re-evaluating our plans and have decided to wind down Station through 2020,” said Google South Africa.

“We’ll work with Think WiFi on a plan to transition the service to them, and continue to support them until the end of 2020. We remain committed to looking for ways to make the internet more accessible to users around the world.”

According to MyBroadband, Think WiFi said the service will continue to operate as users have become accustomed to, while plans are in the pipeline to roll the service out to more areas in the coming months.

“The launch of the free Wi-Fi initiative in the Western Cape has been more successful than anticipated and plans are already underway to roll free WiFi out to the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, and some areas in Mpumalanga,” said Think WiFi CEO Janine Rebelo.

“We endeavour to work with the private and public sector to bring connectivity to the unconnected.”

According to Think WiFi, Google Station has already reached more than a million people in South Africa, and the internet service provider (ISP) sees a gap in the market to become the new preferred service provider for free WiFi.

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