Levels of education and household income are two of the biggest factor in widening the internet access gap in South Africa, according to the Internet Access in South Africa 2017 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Dark Fibre Africa (DFA).

Over half the population in the country currently has access to the internet, either via wifi, mobile or fixed broadband at home, work, school or public spaces.

The clearest divide is revealed in income disparity. Among adult South Africans earning more than R30 000 a month, internet penetration is at 82.4%, on a par with overall penetration in many industrialised countries. However, penetration declines rapidly as income declines, falling to 61.3% for those earning between R14 000 and R18 000, 42% for those earning between R3 000 and R6 000, and below 30% for those earning below R2 500 a month.

“This is merely the most obvious divide, as one would expect access to be associated with income levels,” said Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx. “However, it highlights the extent to which lower income South Africans are frozen out of the Internet economy. The research shows that a third of adult internet users rely on their cellphones as their primary means of access. For low-income users, internet access requires data costs to be taken off airtime, and those costs remain among the highest in the world.”

High income earners can afford to buy bulk data bundles, which are cheaper, while low income earners can only afford to buy fewer bundles which don’t last as long.

Education is also a barrier to access, with less than 20% access among all segments that have below Grade seven education. Fewer than 40% of those with less than a Grade 11 education have internet access, but it rises rapidly after that with a maximum Grade 11 education, it goes up to 48.7%, Grade 12 goes to 55%, and of those with a post-matric qualification, it reaches a high 71.6%.

The Western Cape has by far the highest internet penetration of all provinces, at 75%, followed distantly by Gauteng at 55%. This is believed to reflect the extensive local initiatives in towns like Stellenbosch and Somerset West to increase coverage, as well as an earlier start on provincial connectivity initiatives.

“A country’s capacity to connect its economy to the internet and make these services available and accessible to its citizens and businesses is key to its success in the digital age. Open access fibre infrastructure deployment and availability plays a critical role in enabling service providers to deliver a range high speed of fixed and wireless internet access technologies and services to their consumer and business markets. This contributes significantly towards the further development of the knowledge economy in South Africa,” said Reshaad Sha, Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Director at DFA.