IN SEPTEMBER 2013, Rwanda became the first country in the East African Community to offer free public Internet in selected locations in the City of Kigali.
The Kenyan town of Nakuru became the second in the region with the launch of free public WiFi last month.
South Africa is the only other country on the continent offering free public WiFi – in the City of Tshwane.
It may not be immediately apparent, but it is part of global trend to offer free Internet to all citizens of the world for the knowledge and commercial dividend it brings.
We are already aware of the commercial aspect of it in restaurants, cafés and such-like that offer free Internet to pull in customers, which has been around for a while across the world.
But free no-strings-attached public WiFi on a global scale is just around the corner.
So are cheap smart phones, tablets and computers – ownership of which, especially of smart phones, it is part of the scheme they will most certainly be subsidised to be in the hands of the global majority.
In February, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined a plan to partner with some of the major wireless carriers to provide free, basic mobile phone access to everyone on the planet, with the emphasis on developing countries. The ultimate aim will be free access to basic Internet services.
In the same month, a New York-based organisation called the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) announced plans to beam WiFi worldwide for free.
In a project called Outernet, MDIF seeks to utilise a satellite constellation around the planet to make Internet universally-accessible at no cost.
Outernet plans to pool resources and develop prototype satellites and test out a long range of WiFi multicasting by June this year. The launch and testing of constellation operations is expected to begin by January 2015.
The mutual objective for these initiatives in the region and globally is not only to reach the unreached, but to provide unrestricted access or transmission of information on current events, trending topics, and innovative ideas for personal progress and collective development.
The only difference, perhaps, is in the ability of the countries in the region to go the last mile and reach the unreached.
Zuckerberg, with his global clout, is able to do it by enlisting the major wireless carriers. So is Outernet, who plan to enlist the might of the United States government space agency – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – in its bid to offer free Internet worldwide.
No matter who was the first to offer free Internet, or at what scale globally, the aim remains mutual – to provide unrestricted access for personal, national and global development.
Suppose, therefore, countries in the region – or the continent – taps into either or both the Zuckerberg and Outernet initiatives?
If only to avoid duplication, and perhaps gain a little saving, why not join hands?
Sure, the telecommunication companies in the region and elsewhere may put up a fight in the interest of not losing business.
But I am willing to bet that Outernet, for instance, might attain its stated global objective of free WiFi as early as next year, which will be sooner than much of the developing world attaining their national objectives.
Forget national sovereignty, borderless Internet for the global masses is surely coming at no cost to all and sundry.
The writer is a commentator on local and regional issues