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Internet access in South Africa has many divides

The latest study on Internet access in South Africa reveals extensive fault lines across geography, race and income, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, one of the authors of the report.

The digital divide is a convenient way of describing the gap between the haves and have-nots in the world of technology and communications. But it goes far beyond mere affordability.

The new Internet Access in South Africa 2017 report, released last week by World Wide Worx with the support of wholesale connectivity providers Dark Fibre Africa, spells out the many divides that make up the dramatic imbalances in Internet access.

The good news is that the South African Internet user population passed the 20-million mark for the first time last year, reaching 21-million, and is expected to grow to at least 22.5-million in 2017. This means that more than half of the adult population is now connected.

The bad news lies on the flip side of that same coin.

“It means that half are not connected, highlighting how far we still have to go to bring everyone into the information economy,” says Reshaad Sha, Chief Strategy Officer and executive director of Dark Fibre Africa. “If we are to deliver a truly digitally inclusive state, increasing the ability of people to afford internet connectivity is absolutely critical, as this remains an inhibitor to the majority of people in the lower income brackets isolated from the benefits of the information economy.”

The report includes data supplied from the Target Group Index (TGI) survey conducted by Ask Afrika, one of the largest market research organisations on the continent. TGI comprises more than 15 000 interviews across a vast range of consumer topics and behaviours.

The analysis of this data reveals that, among adult South Africans earning more than R30 000 a month, Internet penetration is at 82.4 per cent, on a par with overall penetration in many industrialised countries. However, penetration declines rapidly as income declines, falling to 61.3 per cent for those earning between R14 000 and R18 000, 42 per cent for those earning between R3 000 and R6 000, and below 30 per cent 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. 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 individuals tend to buy data in large bundles, which brings the cost down dramatically, to the extent that their data costs compare with some of the lowest in the world. However, this obscures the high cost of data for the rest of the population.

Education is also a barrier to Internet access, with less than 20 per cent access among all segments that have below Grade 7 education. Fewer than 40 per cent 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 per cent, Grade 12 goes to 55 per cent, and of those with a post-matric qualification, it reaches a high 71.6 per cent.

A digital divide also exists between major metros and non-metro areas, and between different cities and provinces. The Western Cape has by far the highest Internet penetration of all provinces, at 75 per cent, 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.

“It might seem like it is stating the obvious, but the other major area that needs work is that of infrastructure,” Sha point out. “The report indicates that a vast digital divide exists between the major metropolitan areas and the smaller cities and towns.

“The former have penetration levels of 67.7%, compared to the latter’s 32.3% penetration. Even more concerning, these figures only reflect the gap between large cities and smaller towns. It can certainly be assumed that, outside of the urban areas, Internet penetration is significantly lower.

“Therefore, when infrastructure projects are planned in the future,  sustainable models, partnerships and policies must be explored to support such projects.”

Unfortunately, says Sha, when one looks at Internet penetration among the various races, it is also clear that South Africa a long way to go to overcome the inequalities of the past.

“Over two thirds of white people have Internet access (69.1%), compared to just 47.7% of black, 48.1% of Indian, and 45,8% of Coloured users. Perhaps the most effective way of increasing Internet penetration is to improve economic inclusivity across the board. “

The more people that can afford devices and connectivity, he says, the easier it will be to drive penetration.

“This is vital as, with Africa the continent that has the largest population of youth in the world, Internet penetration has never been more critical if we want our youth to be able to play a role in the economy.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Cisco gives pre-owned tech a Refresh

In a market of constant upgrades, Cisco Refresh aims to keep quality product away from landfills, writes BRYAN TURNER.

When one gets a new smartphone upgrade, the old device may be used as a backup or can be used by someone else. In business environments, equipment upgrades may not be conducive to keeping old equipment around, which may send older, working equipment to landfills.

This is where Cisco’s Refresh initiative comes in. At Cisco Connect in Sun City this week, Ehrika Gladden, VP and general manager of Cisco Refresh, lifted the lid on a little-known aspect of the company’s strategy. 

“Refresh is Cisco’s global pre-owned equipment business unit,” said Gladden. “It is certified to meet the quality and engineering standards of Cisco. It is licensed for software and it’s also inclusive of a services warranty.

“Our responsibility in 80 countries around the world is tied to both the recovery of assets and the ability to leverage those assets at a lower price point. This ensures our sustainability and proper usage of the Earth’s resources while providing access to small and medium businesses. The products are typically in the range of 20-40% cheaper. The products represent the entire portfolio for Cisco in some part, the majority of that product set is 2+ years in terms of generation.”

Cisco’s Circular Economy initiative ensures a sustainable loop through businesses willing to pay a premium for the latest, cutting-edge solutions, while Cisco markets older, working equipment for resale to those who don’t require the latest solutions. This ensures far less new components need to be used in a product range.

“We are leveraging the model of remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and reusing,” said Gladden. “Depending on the product set, there is a certain set of product yield that we expect. They vary from product to product, but we do have a percentage that doesn’t make it through.

“Those are always reused, meaning we will look at those products and decide to use them completely differently, leveraging the components, remanufacturing back into the overall build process. If that can’t be done, we will go into a recycle process where we melt those products down to reuse them.”

Repairing and refurbishing older products isn’t just that. Cisco is creating repair centres that are owned by third-parties to uplift local ownership.

“The repair centres, as a global manufacturer, is Cisco’s entree into local ownership,” said Gladden. “I want to be precise about what I mean by local ownership. It’s critical for us to have a localised presence, but doing that through ownership. When you look at inclusive economies, those that are participative, to be sustainable – not in the product set, but generationally.

“The ability as a global manufacturer through a local ownership model  isto create a repair centre where a product can be returned, screened, tested, and repaired, leveraging the talent that the Networking Academy is creating.”

Cisco is working closely with local governments to understand where it operates and how to leverage the skills in the market.

Gladden said: “We are also super excited about the National Development Plan and African Union statements which with we align: eradication of poverty, job creation, ownership, healthcare, education, it all fits in the model. So we were very excited to have the opportunity to come to Africa first to announce this. Over the next twelve months, we want to establish our first repair centres, and in the next 3 to 5 years, build that vision into a reality.”

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Why Data Privacy has become a Pipe Dream

If you’re active on WhatsApp, Facebook or any other social platform, you’re not as safe as you thought, writes
AARON THORNTON, MD of Dial a Nerd

As you begin to read this, let’s perform a quick experiment! How many active conversations are you engaged in – right now – on WhatsApp? When was the last time you shared a picture or video on Instagram? Is Facebook currently open and active on one of your devices? And how many internet- connected devices are you using at this moment? Chances are, you have multiple devices running multiple applications most of the time. So what’s the problem, you ask? Since when did checking in with a high school buddy in Australia via Facebook become a dangerous act?  

In reply, we say, read on if you can stomach it!  

Nation-State Hacking & You  

It might seem like a laughably long shot to say that you are a key player in the increasingly sinister and sophisticated world of nation-state hacking. Well, you are. Given that individuals, businesses and governments are now constantly connected, round the clock, consumers and businesses have become fair game in cyber espionage. And as we create and share more and more data, both the value and accessibility of that data increases. According to a report by McAfee, IP theft now accounts for more than 25% of the estimated $600 billion cost of cybercrime to the world economy.    

With data having become the ‘new gold’, nation states are naturally pouring investment and key resources into building advanced cyber warfare tools. Indeed, entire divisions of armed forces as well as the upper echelons of corporate leadership are devising ways to harness data to gain economic, political and social power. At the highest level, tools and platforms are being developed with the specific aim of perpetrating cyber espionage and data theft. No surprise then, that the consumer and business environments are rife with increasingly advanced malware, ransomware and many other malicious hacking tools and methods.  

Still not convinced? Yes, we can smell the scepticism from here! So let’s take a moment to see how this has already played out, beneath our noses.  

Remember the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal of early 2018? For many, this was a watershed moment in the emerging war for consumer data – and the ensuing tensions between privacy, power and profit. Need a refresh? Well, in 2018, Facebook exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign. In essence, the data was harvested without user consent and used for political purposes.  

Another chilling but less direct example can be found in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. According to Politico, Russia launched a massive social media campaign to ‘sow discord’ leading up to the elections. The website reported that as early as 2014, an infamous Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency – a company linked to Russian president Putin – developed a strategy using fraudulent bank accounts and other fake identity documents to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” 

When referring to the Russian hacks and their impact on election results, one U.S. Representative sagely noted: “They didn’t just steal data; they weaponized it.” 

Ignorance is not bliss 

Okay, so data is being ‘weaponized’, and ordinary people and businesses are being caught in the crosshairs of cyber warfare. A little bit frightening, but the good news is that savvy individuals like you can take steps to protect personal data and actively combat the creeping influence of juggernauts such as Facebook and Google.  

To begin with, awareness is key. As you engage with various platforms and applications at work and at home, take time to understand how your data is being used and what the terms of use are. Is your data being accessed and sold to advertisers? Have you consented to this? In addition to scrutinizing your consent, also pay close attention to how much data you share online – and the nature of the details you are divulging. Always keep in mind that hackers are employing smart social engineering tactics and using the details of your private life (birthdays, holidays, pet’s names, etc) to trick you into opening infected emails and clicking on malware. Whenever you are online, you are a target – and vigilance at all times is critical. Beyond that, it goes without saying that you must commit to following basic security protocols with your devices. So always keep software up to date and keep your data backed up so that you can reboot or wipe a device if needed.   

Now that we’ve left you sufficiently spooked, you can get back to those demanding WhatsApp/Facebook/Instagram notifications (same company, by the way)…albeit, we hope, with a slightly altered [cyber] worldview!  

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