Compelling Mozilla-backed research (www.Mozilla.org), 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.
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.
There is a general belief that mobile network operators charge a hidden tariff, and whatever airtime is on the phone will be eventually deducted by the operator if one subscribes to a subsidized service.
Many non-users want to use a “big phone” (a smartphone) and would rather wait until they can afford one than use a more limited version of the internet.
Though the price of brand new smartphones keeps dropping and they can be bought for as low as $20, affordability challenges persist.
“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.”
Mozilla-backed research reveals Kenyans offline due to prohibitive costs and security fears
The Communications Authority of Kenya reports that some 38 million people – about 82 percent of the population – were online in 2016. The four mobile operators in the country have 4G internet connections on mobile but not in all parts of the country. Researchers’ findings include:
Social media tops the list of uses for the internet and there is even a perception among some users that the internet is about social media.
The price of data bundles and internet-enabled phones render the cost of doing what most users want to do online prohibitive to many.
Strategic solutions for high costs include working late into the night before reward bundle periods expire, visiting friends who have Wi-Fi at home, and using multiple promotions from different operators.
Even when people have smartphones, they do not always carry them for offline security reasons. In particular, there are concerns that, thieves may frequent areas with free public Wi-Fi in order to steal patrons’ internet enabled devices
National network coverage was seen to be a challenge for both voice and data particularly in rural areas.
“While internet access is good in Kenya relative to elsewhere in Africa, real barriers remain to internet use,” said Research ICT Africa Executive Director Dr Alison Gillwald. “If we don’t look beyond access issues to the real concerns around privacy and security, for example, we’ll never bring all of the internet to all people.”
“One participant in this study reported concerns about getting skin cancer from their phone, proving there’s a lot more we still need to do to improve digital (and health) literacy,” said Mozilla Senior Global Policy Manager Jochai Ben-Avie. “At the same time, Kenyan internet penetration is on par with some of the most developed countries, and that’s due to the ingenuity of Kenyans to find ways to connect despite the relatively high cost of data.”