There is significant growth in Internet usage, but access and cost hamper development

Zweli Mokgata

Zweli Mokgata

South Africans have more options than ever for Internet connectivity, but most of them would not be able to access the technology from home, MWeb said yesterday.

In a call to deregulate the telecommunications industry and bring down the cost of Internet access, a study by BMI-Techknowledge (BMIT) and MWeb released yesterday revealed that available wireless technology was not being sufficiently used, though interest in Internet applications was growing at a rapid rate.

MWeb Home general manager Natalie Thayer said that the growth in Internet usage was encouraging, "but factors such as cost and access to telephone lines are holding back the development in this market".

A 2006 All Media and Products Survey revealed that over the past three years Internet usage among previously disadvantaged groups had grown significantly compared with the growth for white users.

The study showed that usage grew by 68 percent in South Africa's black population, the highest in any demographic group. Usage in the coloured and Indian communities grew by 54 percent and 47 percent respectively, but it only grew by 13 percent for whites.

BMIT research director Brian Neilson said that though this was a cause for optimism, there was still "a huge gap" in terms of access and affordability.

He noted that black users used online news services, music applications, downloaded video clips and Internet radio at higher rates than any other group, but that very little of it was at home.

"Most Internet users [especially black users] are accessing the Internet at work or school and not at home," Thayer said.

"When black South Africans do have access at home, it tends to be narrowband [analogue dial-up]. The only thing that will bring down cost is competition in the fixed line network industry, which is still currently a monopoly."

Network architect Tshepo Tsele said that wireless technology was becoming cheaper, faster and more reliable, but that South Africans would still struggle to take full advantage of the technology if telecommunication costs were kept at current levels.

"At the moment people aren't even using home phones because they're too expensive," Tsele said.

"They would rather use cellular phones and go to Internet cafes for their telecommunication needs. The current pricing excludes previously disadvantaged people and poor communities, though many of them are sophisticated users."

"The two enablers for wireless technology are access to land lines and home computers which are still very expensive for a South African market," said Neilson.