South Africa was one of the four countries participating in a Mozilla-backed research, carried out by Research ICT Africa, which aims to understand, from a comparative perspective, how citizens use the internet when data is subsidised and when it is not.
The compelling investigation finds that significant barriers to internet access is prevailing in South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya and Nigeria.
Knowing that affordability is one of the primary barriers to Internet access and particular optimal use, the main objective of the focus groups was to obtain qualitative information that reflects the perceptions of female and male Internet users, new users, and non-Internet users from urban and rural locations about how people use the Internet.
To entice price-sensitive users and to encourage new internet users, the availability of subsidised data – whether discounted or free – prompts questions of how internet access and use are affected. Results of the research included the following findings:
- No respondents came online through zero rating, rather zero rated services are used as one of many price control strategies
- Various mobile data bundles (which are partially subsidized) tend to be more popular than zero rated offerings
- In rural areas, the extent of internet use is limited by the sources of electricity to charge mobile phones, which need to be taken to different charging points, often overnight.
- Digital skills and illiteracy greatly affect non-users as well – even those who have smart devices – limiting their internet use.
- Being online, in particular on social media is perceived, in some cases, as interfering with users’ relationships.
“Moving beyond access challenges requires a rights-based approach to deal with barriers such as online privacy and security,” said Dr Alison Gillwald, Executive Director of Research ICT Africa.
“The possibilities of achieving this in a context where offline rights to resources as basic as electricity do not exist is one of the biggest hurdles for users in South Africa.
“South Africans, instead of depend on or using zero rated data, are using subsidized services as one of many sophisticated cost-savings strategies,” said Jochai Ben-Avie, Senior Global Policy Manager at Mozilla.
But there is a need to connect the unconnected and the focus should be more on barriers like electricity, digital literacy, competition, and gender power relations.