How ICT Policy and Regulation Is Failing the ‘Less Connected’ in South Africa
6 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2018
Date Written: October 19, 2018
The less connected are those - the majority of the connected in South Africa - who are dependent on mobile phones and mobile networks for their Internet connectivity and who live on or below median incomes, buying data in small packages (RIA, 2018).
Current policy and regulation has enabled the highly connected - those on higher incomes an/or with broadband access at work, college or at home - to enjoy high quality and high speed access to a broad range of Internet services. Policy also addresses the need to connect the unconnected through schools programmes, and city programmes to provide public WiFi access.
New research reported here suggests that those on lower incomes who are connected, in urban and rural areas, are unable to make effective use of Internet-based services due to the high costs of mobile data and the pricing policies of mobile operators. They are experiencing an 'Internet of the Poor' - limited to instant messaging and data-free social network services and excluded from exploring the World Wide Web. We describe them as 'less connected' with fragile connectivity and frugal practices that restrict their ability to benefit from the Internet.
The highly connected have access to a competitive market of mobile networks, fixed-line and fibre networks, and a variety of ISPs. The less connected are largely dependent on mobile network operators for their access. Mobile network operators discriminate against low income users who buy data in small bundles. This means they pay rates that are up to eleven times higher than those charged to higher income users.
Policy and regulation needs to move beyond attempting to close the digital divide and pay greater attention to the inequalities between the less connected and the highly connected. Unless this issue is addressed, the claimed benefits of Internet connectivity may remain beyond the reach of a marginalised majority.
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