There were 21,248,977 internet users in Kenya in 2016, about 45 percent penetration. IMAGE/COURTESY
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 backed by Mozilla 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.
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.”
Jochai Ben-Avie, Senior Global Policy Manager at Mozilla. PHOTO/MOZILLA
“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.”
A 2016 International Telecommunications Union report estimates that only about 25 percent of the population of Africa has access to the internet. Results of the research included the following findings:
- In all the countries, across demographics, access to subsidised data did not result significantly in new users going online.
- Use of subsidised data is just one of many strategies employed by users to manage costs in these four African countries.
- 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).
- Communication Authority of Kenya director, Mr Francis Wangugi. PHOTO/COURTESY
- 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.”