Ripe for a digital revolution: 40% of SA now has internet access – study

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa has generally been regarded as a laggard when it comes to connecting all its people to the internet. But a study by Arthur Goldstuck’s World Wide Worx reveals that the country’s internet user population is set to increase from the 21 million user mark to 22.5 million people in 2017, reaching an important milestone of roughly 40% of the population. While this may still sound low, South Africa is now approaching the world average of about 46% penetration, according to Internet World Stats. This is a remarkable feat considering that South Africa’s government is completely inept when it comes to unlocking greater internet access. For starters, the ANC government has failed to meet a key 2015 digital migration deadline – a process that is supposed to jolt the SABC off of analogue signals so that mobile networks can use these frequencies to provide faster, more widespread wireless data access. Then there are South Africa’s antiquated internet laws. South Africans, though, are clearly clamouring to access more data and will do what it takes to get it. There’s still a long way to go, but this is positive for democracy. As Alec Hogg says, Hope Springs – Gareth van Zyl

Press release from World Wide Worx and Dark Fibre Africa: 

JOHANNESBURG, 19 July 2017 — The South African Internet user population passed the 20-million mark for the first time last year, reaching 21 million, and is expected to grow to at least 22.5 million in 2017.

This is the main finding of the Internet Access in South Africa 2017 study, released today by World Wide Worx with the support of Dark Fibre Africa (DFA), the country’s leading provider of wholesale open-access fibre connectivity.

Based on Stats SA’s estimate that the South African population reached 55.9-million people in June 2016, this means that the country will reach the 40 per cent Internet penetration mark this year.

The drop-down menu of an Android phone, focusing on the mobile data option.

“Finally reaching the point where we can say every second adult South African is connected to the Internet is a major landmark, because Internet access is becoming synonymous with economic access,” says Reshaad Sha, Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Director of DFA. “For this reason, it is critical that the country prioritise the roll-out of infrastructure in underserved areas, especially outside the major metropolitan areas.”

The report reveals that the single most common use of the Internet among South African adults is communication, reported by almost a third (31 per cent) of respondents, followed by social networking (24.9 per cent) and information (23.7 per cent), both reported by almost a quarter of respondents. Only then comes entertainment at 22.1 per cent.

The report includes data from the Target Group Index (TGI) survey conducted by Ask Afrika, the largest market research organisation in Africa. World Wide Worx collaborates with Ask Afrika in the structuring of e-commerce, digital, and electronics components of the TGI, which comprises 15 000 interviews across a vast range of consumer topics and behaviours.

Read also: Knott-Craig: Ignore the noise – Why universal Internet access is SA’s lifesaver

The question on primary uses of the Internet was answered by a sample representing 4.1 million South African adults across all income and education levels.

While communication is the single most important use, email is reported by only 16.1 per cent of respondents, indicating that it is becoming a less important element of the communications mix as social media becomes a default channel.

Arthur Goldstuck

Shopping and finance is cited by only 15.2 per cent of respondents, confirming previous World Wide Worx research that showed e-commerce was still not a major element of South African retail in general.

“The findings emphasise the potential of the Internet to enhance lives when we have greater penetration across all segments and demographics,” says Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx. “Over time, we will see higher proportions of people engaging in a wider range of activity, but the barriers to more active use will first have to come down.”

Sha added: “A country’s capacity to connect its economy to the Internet and to make these services available and accessible to its citizens and businesses is key to its success in the digital age. Thus, it goes without saying that a high-speed national Internet backbone that is built on fibre is critical to the development of a true knowledge economy.”