In sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s fastest-growing mobile phone market and home to initiatives such Facebook’s ‘Internet.org’ to give millions easier access to the Internet via cellular technology, cost is still an issue. The median mobile phone user in Africa spends more than 13% of his or her monthly income on their phone bill.
Given that so many marketers and market researchers see Africa’s increasing mobile phone ownership as an important and relatively cost-effective communication channel with consumers, a January 2016 report by the World Bank makes for interesting reading.
In the Central African Republic, for example, one month of Internet access via mobile phone costs about 1,5 times the annual per capita income, the study points out.
According to an analysis of the report, published in the US-based publication ‘Quartz Africa’, other divisions persist. Only 10% of rural residents in Africa, compared with almost 25% of those who live in urban areas, have access to the Internet. Only a little over 10% of women are likely to use digital technologies compared to almost 20% of men. Sub-Saharan Africa may be catching up the rest of the world in mobile phone usage, but it is falling behind when it comes to access to the Internet.
Developed economies still dominate the spread of knowledge and information, the World Bank points out. For example, last year there were more contributions to Wikipedia from Hong Kong, a city of about 7-million people, than from all of Africa. One reason is that cost-effective access to, and familiarity with, the Internet is still uneven. While developed markets have almost full Internet penetration and affordable access costs, in the developing world – including Africa – two billion people are still without proper and affordable access.
“The poor benefit from digital technologies, but only modestly in relation to the true potential,” the bank says. It adds that cheap mobile phones and expanding access to the Internet haven’t delivered on the gains that many predicted – such as improved productivity, more opportunities for the poor and more accountable governments.
In markets without enough competition, the bank warns, digital technologies can give rise to monopolies that curb innovation. “While the Internet allows many tasks to be automated, it can create greater inequality if workers don’t have the skills to take advantage of technological advances.”
The report isn’t all doom and gloom however. It argues that technologies like the Kenyan-developed digital currency M-Pesa have drastically reduced the cost of remitting money for the world’s poorest, while “new technologies allow women to participate more easily in the labour market as e-commerce entrepreneurs, in online work, or in business-process outsourcing”.