APC members in 2016: Do-it-yourself connectivity for rural communities

This member story was featured in the 2016 APC Annual Report, as part of our work on access.

Zenzeleni Networks in Mankosi has finally managed to connect its networks to a cheaper, faster and more reliable internet option.

Due to its remoteness, the options for internet connectivity in Mankosi, as in many other rural – and not-so-rural – areas in South Africa, are very limited. There is mobile data coverage, but its costs, speeds and reliability do not allow for making any productive use of it.

After having engaged to no avail with all the providers that could offer an alternative, they decided to do it themselves, i.e. finding a way to connect their network to the fibre in Mthatha, the closest town, 60 km away as the bird flies. The process entailed using digital elevation maps to plan the most efficient way to do so. They found out that if was feasible by “just” building a 12-metre antenna on an intermediary hill.

With the support of a Beyond the Net grant from ISOC, and after several conversations with the owners of the houses on that hill and the tribal authority in the village, the tower was built in February.

This was followed by an agreement with Walter Sisulu University (WSU), which is allowing them to use one of its tallest buildings in Mthatha as a high site, and, for now, to piggyback on its own internet connection. This tower will not only allow Zenzeleni to provide affordable internet access in Mankosi, but to start working with other communities so they can provide it to themselves.

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