A report by Research ICT Africa has indicated that affordability and hidden tariffs are the two main factors that have hindered the spread of Internet access in Nigeria. The research, which was funded by Mozilla, was focused on Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Rwanda.
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 in Africa on how people use the Internet. The outcome of the most recent report has been fascinating and I will share some aspects of this report with you:
Women and the Internet
According to the report, “Women face additional barriers to internet use, including concerns of being exposed to inappropriate content online and its consequences in their intimate relationships and family responsibilities”. These threats can be subtle. Examples include cyber-stalking, revenge porn or even threat. And, some can indeed be violent: The example of the gripping story of Ijeoma Oluo is the most recent of women who have face abused and never got redress.
As this report has shown, not many African women (especially Nigerians) have the nerve to face such abuse even for a short while.
Rural vs Urban Communities
Another fact brought to the fore by the report is the fact that a significant urban-rural divide remains in opportunities to access the internet. According to Dr Alison Gillwald, Executive Director at 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.”
It is not the fact that the divide hasn’t always existed but this report calls to mind once again two critical truths.
The first is that often when we mouth the “Nigeria has the biggest potential with her population” mantra, we proudly refer to that about 180 million, whereas those who truly have access to most growth enabling solutions belong to the fraction that lives in the few cities.
The second is that the true potentials for exponential growth do not consist in focusing on creating solutions for the people in Lagos et al. The money lies in the bigger population.
The report concludes that overall awareness and use of the internet has gained traction especially as activities around social interactions, business, and career development have migrated largely online. Also, the majority of citizens, whether in rural or urban areas, have ranked the purchase of data high on their personal expense list. This is a reflection of the present social and cultural realities and the nature of the Nigeria of the future.
However, the report also indicates that the awareness and use of zero rating (free data) remain low in Nigeria. This might be because we enjoy some of the cheapest data prices in Africa.
It could also be owing to the fact that zero rated services are still relatively new to the Nigerian market with Airtel launching Facebook’s Free Basics and Facebook Flex only last year.
The report also indicated that there is a general belief that mobile network operators charge a hidden tariff and that whatever air-time or free data you enjoy will eventually be deducted by the operator when you subscribe to a subsidized service.
Truly, we all somehow bear that implicit belief. Nigerians have a tacit distrust for Telecomms service providers and this somehow explains the unwillingness to commit to acquiring huge data bundles (people are scared they might not use it because of bad network or it will simply disappear). So, we buy in them bits instead!
The report shows that many non-users want to use a “big phone” (a smartphone) and would rather wait until they can afford one than using a more limited version of the internet. Though the price of brand new smartphones keeps dropping and they can be bought for as low as $20, affordability challenges still persist.
Dr Alison said: “Even in a country with some of the lowest rates for data and devices in Africa, the cost of buying a smartphone in Nigeria is still a challenge for many. Affordability gets disproportionate attention, but we need to do much more to improve digital literacy and supply side issues like network quality and speed.”
We must all recall that the internet is the lifeline for the 21st-century revolution. We cannot get anywhere without it. If stakeholders in the industry do not take deliberate steps to address these social and economic realities our hope of attaining greater heights may be far from reality. I am talking about security, infrastructure and legislation that promotes a free market. Otherwise, we will continue to be technology giants on the map
In the words of Jochai Ben-Avie, senior global policy manager at Mozilla:
“We need to do more to improve digital literacy and understanding of the internet, especially among low-income individuals and those in rural and deep rural communities.