Technology

A tale of two internet connections

Arthur Goldstuck

South Africa's latest General Household Survey shows healthy growth in internet connectivity, but the full story is less encouraging.

No more than 10% of South African households have access to the internet within the home. (Reuters)

It was the best of stats, it was the worst of stats. The General Household Survey 2013, published last week by Statistics South Africa, offered the happy news that 40.9% of South African households have internet access – up from 35% in the 2011 census.

But this is a tale of two statistics: the connected household and the connected individual. And the two look nothing like each other.

Firstly, household connections are defined as households where at least one person has internet access – and not necessarily within the house. So the 40.9% of households – an estimated 15.107-million for 2013 – could amount to as few as 6.178-million people. And that, in population terms, given a 2013 population of 52.982-million, could represent just 11.6% of the population.

That’s a long-winded way of saying that equating household penetration with population penetration, which regularly happened after the 2011 census, can give a severely skewed picture of internet connectivity in the country.

Fortunately, the survey goes to some lengths to protect analysts and media from making the same error this time round, making it clear that the 40.9% figure represents households where at least one member has access anywhere. 

It then provides a startling – and far more realistic – insight into households with access in the home. No more than 10% of households have access within the home, representing a minuscule 1.5-million homes.

So where do the rest access the internet? The General Household Survey has the answer to this question, too: 30.8% of households report someone in the home having access on a mobile device, 16% says someone has access at work and a surprisingly high 9.6% report access at an internet café.

This means that almost as many households access the web from an internet café as from their homes. This is deeply revealing. Internet cafés are inconvenient and expensive, yet remain heavily utilised.

The reason? Mobile access is even more expensive, and often far less reliable.

Indeed, in every country in Africa where mobile internet has resulted in an explosion in access – South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya in particular – the quality and cost of that access often leaves much to be desired. So while a high proportion of people have access, they use that access sparingly – typically for social networking. The real downloading and surfing happens at work and in internet cafés.

In rural areas, the household is even more isolated: only 2% have internet access in the home compared with 16.4% in major metropolitan centres and 9.2% across urban sprawls. The proportions improve for mobile access: 17.9% in rural areas compared with 37.2% and 35.3% respectively for metro and urban areas.

Neither access at work nor internet cafés help close the gap: only 3.2% of rural households have a member with access at work and a mere 2.6% at internet cafés. 

So although it’s worth celebrating improving connectivity in South Africa, terms and conditions still apply. – Gadget.co.za

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