Dark fibre company Vumatel, the business that’s made the residents of Johannesburg’s Parkhurst and surrounds even more supercilious than usual, has announced it’s going to “roll out free uncapped open access fibre optic infrastructure” to every school its teams of trench-digging, fibre-laying, pink-high-visibility-vest-clad workers pass as it grows its network.
That’s 1Gbit/s, uncapped connectivity they’re talking about, meaning children at the schools in question could be forgiven for thinking they’re suddenly living in Seoul or Tokyo, albeit with fewer tentacled surprises in their packed lunches.
Being a “dark fibre” company means Vumatel lays the physical fibre, but a range of internet service providers (ISPs) get to sell data on it, or “light” it. Geddit? Good. For Vumatel’s new initiative, schools can choose between Cell C, Cool Ideas and Vox Telecoms for their actual connectivity, with more providers expected to jump on board in months to come.
Greenside High, Hoërskool Linden and Parkhurst Primary are the first three schools to benefit. Vumatel’s been using them as guinea pigs for the project, and so far so great, by all accounts. Headmasters and parents alike have raved about the initiative, according to Vumatel, and the company plans to connect around 80 schools that lie along its path to suburban domination before the end of the year.
Vumatel’s CEO Niel Schoeman, says he’d like to see the company’s rivals follow suit, because getting schools online for free can only help improve the state and standard of education in South Africa. ‘Dem’s fighting words. And we like ’em.
“The incremental cost for telcos to do this for schools are negligible when compared to the potential and fundamental impact it can have,” he says. The man’s got a point.
Of course, those sorts of statements are also a shrewd marketing move from Vumatel. Not only does it get to stick it to rivals like Telkom — which is scrambling to roll out its own fibre services, lest it get left in the cold clutching strands of copper it may find no one wants or needs any more — but also encourages new suburbs to sign up for Vumatel’s services and tolerate having their pavements dug up.
Regardless of the motivation, the only thing we like more than high-speed internet is free high-speed internet. Let’s hope the inclination to provide it to schools proves contagious, even if only so that companies that aren’t Vumatel can save face. Altruism’s great, but we’ll gladly settle for oneupmanship.