Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Mozilla-backed research reveals main barriers to internet access in African countries

Compelling Mozilla-backed research, carried out by Research ICT Africa, finds that significant barriers to internet access remains in four African countries – Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. The research aims to understand, from a comparative perspective, how the citizens use the internet when data is subsidised and when it is not.

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.



A 2016 International Telecommunications Union report (http://APO.af/KAylqd) estimates that only about 25 percent of the population of Africa has access to the internet. Results of the research included the following findings:

Uptake of zero rating varied across the four countries. Awareness was low and scepticism of free services was high in Nigeria, whereas in Rwanda bundles with unlimited WhatsApp and Facebook were very popular. In Kenya and South Africa, the zero-rated services were welcomed for their cost-reducing nature.

There was substantial interest and uptake in Equal Rating-compliant, partially subsidized data bundles that provide access to the entire internet not just some parts of it (e.g., Cell C’s offering of 250MB between 1 am and 7 am for R6 in South Africa or an MTN bundle in Rwanda for Rwf 800 (USD 0.96) that provide 24 hours unlimited data).

Poor network quality and coverage limited the consumption of subsidised data since some respondents, especially in rural areas of Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa, reported that telcos with those offerings did not have coverage in their area. Indeed, many of these users only have access via the most expensive operator in that country.

Women face additional barriers to internet use, including concern of being exposed to inappropriate content online and its consequences in their intimate relationships and family responsibilities.

“Our research reveals that a significant urban-rural divide remains in opportunities to access the internet.” said Dr Alison Gillwald, Executive Director of Research ICT Africa. “Too often the debate over zero rating glosses over the fact that many people in rural communities don’t even have access to the best subsidized offerings and have to spend largely disproportionate amounts of their already low income on mobile access, and that’s assuming they can even find electricity to charge their devices.”

“Given all the controversy around zero rating, it’s surprising to see how few research respondents in these African countries actually use or depend on zero rated data. We are, however, seeing a lot of interest in Equal Rating compliant models which provide access to all of the internet, not just some parts of it,” said Jochai Ben-Avie, Senior Global Policy Manager at Mozilla. “More must be done to connect the unconnected. This research makes clear that it’s critical we all focus more on barriers like healthy competition outside urban areas, electricity, digital literacy, and gender power relations.”

Mozilla-backed research reveals affordability a barrier to internet access in Nigeria

Zero rated services are still relatively new to the Nigerian market, with Airtel launching Facebook’s Free Basics and Facebook Flex only last year. Awareness and use of zero rating remains low in Nigeria, a country which enjoys some of the cheapest data prices in Africa. Results of the research included the following findings:

Many rural users see the internet as their access to the civilized world and the gateway to the places around the globe where they have friends and family.

Overall awareness and use of the internet has gained traction especially as social interactions, business or career enabler, and majority of participants, whether in rural or urban areas, rank the purchase of data high on their personal expense list.

“Even in a country with some of the lowest rates for data and devices in Africa, the cost of buying a smartphone in Nigeria is still a challenge for many,” said Dr Alison Gillwald, Executive Director or Research ICT Africa. “Affordability gets disproportionate attention, but we need to do much more to improve digital literacy and supply side issues like network quality and speed.”

“This research demonstrates that Nigerians want access to all of the internet, not just some parts of it,” said Jochai Ben-Avie, Senior Global Policy Manager at Mozilla. “If we’re to bring all the internet to all people, we need to do more to improve digital literacy and understanding of the internet, especially among low-income individuals and those in rural and deep rural communities. At Mozilla we believe in equal rating for all internet users so that this shared global resource is not held hostage by the wealthy.”

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