Rwanda cut data costs significantly and it’s helped get more people online

According to Mozilla-back research carried out by the ITU, internet use and access in Rwanda has been exploding largely due to the Government of Rwanda’s Vision 2020 to enable Rwanda to leap-frog the key stages of industrialization.

Data bundles from the country’s three network providers are heavily government-subsidised, allowing users to buy them for next to nothing.

“Rwanda has been a real leader in bringing people online, including through innovative models like internet connected buses and other public WiFi efforts,” said Dr Alison Gillwald, Executive Director or Research ICT Africa.

Falling data does however have its pitfalls, according to the research.

While internet penetration is relatively high, the diversity of content accessed by participants in this study is relatively low. Results of the research including the following findings:

  • Most participants only use a very limited number of websites and services, and make heavy use of subsidised data.
  • While the use of subsidised data services allows mobile network operators to retain a large number of subscribers that use the internet, an Airtel (mobile network) representative was quoted as saying the company is considering ending their current zero rating offers because the majority of users that are benefiting from zero rated services are no longer using other services, and therefore are not spending on data.
  • The types of bundles and packs from the three networks keep changing almost every week due to tough competition going on, and some promotion offers – including zero rated services – are not even publicised on the website to prevent competitors access to the information.
  • The majority of participants with mid or high income when asked how they would react if subsidized data was no longer available, responded that they may reduce the time spent on the internet, while participants with low incomes responded that they may stop using the internet.
  • Significant access barriers remain, especially in remote areas, including the cost of data as well as illiteracy and lack of understanding of foreign languages to manipulate devices and understand internet content.

“While it’s inspiring to see the boom in internet access in Rwanda, many Rwandans are still stuck in the walled gardens of subsidised services and haven’t experienced the full diversity of the open internet,” said Jochai Ben-Avie, Mozilla’s Senior Global Policy Manager. “Rwanda is a fascinating test-bed of different experiments in connecting the unconnected and we hope the government of Rwanda and other stakeholders will focus on solutions like equal rating that seek to bring all of the internet to all people.”