Mozilla-backed research reveals African urban-rural divide

New research findings reveal that there are a number of barriers preventing residents from accessing the internet in the countries of Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

It is estimated that only 25% of the African population has access to the internet and the key focus of this research is to find out how people in urban and rural locations of the country use the internet. 

The results showed that subsidised did not greatly increase the number of new users going online. Use of zero rating varied across the four countries, In Nigeria awareness of the product was low and is met with high scepticism, in Rwanda unlimited WhatsApp and Facebook bundles were very popular and in Kenya and South Africa zero rated services were welcomed more modestly, but is appreciated for its cost reducing nature. 

It reported that poor network coverage and quality, slowed the consumption of subsidised data particularly in areas of Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa were many said that telecos with those offerings do not have coverage in their area. 

Women were said to face additional barriers to internet use such as risk of exposure to inappropriate content and the effects it could have on their personal relationships and family responsibilities. 

“Our research reveals that a significant urban-rural divide remains in opportunities to access the internet. 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,” said Alison Gillwald, executive director of research at ICT Africa.

In addition, many rural users in Nigeria view the internet as their way to access the civilized world and the way to connect with friends and family around the globe.

In Kenya, respondents said that the price of data bundles and internet-enabled phones prohibit them from doing what want to do online. Ways around 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.

While in Rwanda, the report identified significant access barriers in remote areas. Including the cost of data as well as illiteracy and lack of understanding of foreign languages to manipulate devices and understand internet content.

“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. 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,” said Jochai Ben-Avie, senior global policy manager at Mozilla.