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Internet access in South Africa has many divides

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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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Jaguar drives dictionary definition

Jaguar is calling for the Oxford English Dictionary and Oxford Dictionaries to update their online definition of the word ‘car’

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Jaguar is spearheading a campaign for the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and Oxford Dictionaries (OxfordDictionaries.com) to change their official online definitions of the word ‘car’.

The I-PACE, Jaguar’s all-electric performance SUV, is the 2019 World Car of the Year and European Car of the Year. However, strictly speaking, the zero-emission vehicle isn’t defined as a car.

The OED, the principal historical dictionary of the English language, defines a ‘car’ in its online dictionary as: ‘a road vehicle powered by a motor (usually an internal combustion engine) designed to carry a driver and a small number of passengers, and usually having two front and two rear wheels, esp. for private, commercial, or leisure use’.

Whereas the current definition of a ‘car’ on Oxford Dictionaries.com, a collection of dictionary websites produced by Oxford University Press (OUP), the publishing house of the University of Oxford, is: ‘A road vehicle, typically with four wheels, powered by an internal combustion engine and able to carry a small number of people.’

To remedy the situation, Jaguar has submitted a formal application to the OED and OxfordDictionaries.com to have the definitions updated to include additional powertrains, including electric vehicles (EV).

David Browne, head of Jaguar Land Rover’s naming committee, said: “A lot of time and thought is put into the name of any new vehicle or technology to ensure it is consumer friendly, so it’s surprising to see that the definition of the car is a little outdated. We are therefore inviting the Oxford English Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionaries to update its online classification to reflect the shift from traditional internal combustion engines (ICE) towards more sustainable powertrains.”

The Oxford English Dictionary is widely regarded as the accepted authority on the English language. It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of 600,000 words – past and present – from across the English-speaking world.

Jaguar unveiled the I-PACE, its first all-electric vehicle, last year to deliver sustainable sports car performance, next-generation artificial intelligence (AI) technology and five-seat SUV practicality.

Featuring a state-of-the-art 90kWh lithium-ion battery, two Jaguar-designed motors and a bespoke aluminium structure, the I-PACE is capable of 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds and a range of up to 470km (WLTP).

While both the Oxford English Dictionary and Oxford Dictionaries review the application, Jaguar is encouraging people to get behind the campaign by asking how the word ‘car’ should be defined. Contact Jaguar on TwitterFacebook and Instagram using #RedefineTheCar with your thoughts.

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How Internet blocks visually impaired

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Picture: Amelie-Benoist / Getty Images

A pervasive “digital divide” inhibits blind people from accessing the Internet, according to a study conducted by Nucleus Research for Deque Systems, an accessibility software company specialising in digital equality. This results in visits to websites being abandoned, further resulting in a missed market opportunity for the websites in question.

The study, which conducted in-depth interviews with 73 U.S. adults who are blind or have severe visual impairments, revealed that two-thirds of the Internet transactions initiated by people with vision impairments end in abandonment because the websites they visit aren’t accessible enough. Ninety percent of those surveyed said they regularly call a site’s customer service to report inaccessibility and have no choice but to visit another, more accessible site to make the transaction.

The Nucleus study also scanned hundreds of websites in the e-commerce, news and information and government categories and found that 70 percent had certain “critical blockers” that rendered them inaccessible to visually impaired users.

“Besides the moral dilemma and legal risk, businesses with inaccessible websites are missing a huge revenue opportunity by ignoring an untapped market,” says Preety Kumar, CEO of Deque Systems. “Among internet retailers specifically, two-thirds of the top ten online retailers had serious accessibility issues, meaning they are leaving $6.9 billion in potential North American e-commerce revenues on the table.”

Web accessibility refers to the ability of people with disabilities to independently gather information, complete transactions, or communicate on the Internet. Most visually impaired Internet users rely on assistive technologies like screen readers or screen magnifiers to render sites perceivable and operable. However, these assistive technologies require that websites be built with accessibility in mind and optimized to interface with assistive technology, in order to convey information in an accurate and understandable manner.

Critical accessibility blockers can vary across industries. In e-commerce, problems include issues like missing form and button labels (thereby making forms or the “checkout” button invisible without context). Amazon, Best Buy and Target were found to be accessibility leaders in this space. Additionally, the study found:

  • Eight out of ten news sites had significant accessibility issues.
  • Seven out of ten blind persons reported being unable to access information and services through government websites, including Medicare’s site.
  • Fewer than one in three websites have clear contact information or instructions for blind persons to seek help if they encounter accessibility issues, meaning many have low levels of success in reporting and solving these problems.

“A focus on accessibility needs to be a core part of the website design and development process,” continues Kumar. “Considering accessibility as early as the conception phase, and proactively building and testing sites for accessibility as they move towards production, is significantly more effective than remediating it later, helping organizations save significant time and resources while avoiding unnecessary customer grievances.”

To download the report, visit: https://accessibility.deque.com/nucleus-accessibility-research-2019

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