The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) released research showing that South Africans are paying ten times more than their United Kingdom counterparts for broadband which is considerably slow. The blame, according to IRR, largely rests with the lack of policy implementation by the country’s government and service providers.
Mienke Steytler, spokesperson for the IRR says that while the technology took some time to come to South Africa more people are using it on various mobile devices. “This has grown substantially in the last ten years with the number of cellular phone subscriptions growing by 720 per cent.” Further, research done by Cisco reveals that South African mobile data traffic is expected to grow 11-fold by 2019 as smart connections increase.
The problem says Steytler is that “policy has not caught up with the huge increase in usage over the last five years”. The infrastructure is there, there is a fibre optic cable on the west coast [designed for this] and it is just a matter of putting policies in place to enable that infrastructure to be used. Steytler adds that both government and service providers need to come together to create faster and more affordable broadband.
According to Steytler, slow internet is holding back poorer South Africans who are tech savvy but cannot afford the data costs. “We [South Africa] are home to 2 per cent of the world’s unemployed and if we could get them on the internet, working on the internet and innovating without cost and accessibility issues, we would see wonderful economic changes in South Africa.”
Steytler highlights that the benefits of rolling out faster broadband would allow for more people to educate themselves online. They should be able to look for jobs and also be alerted to opportunities through their phones that would produce positive economic and political changes, she says.
Steytler draws on significant events such as United States President Barack Obama winning the presidential elections because online voters were able to access him. He was able to push ideas and his vision for the country and that is important as people had access to that,she surmised.
Service providers also benefit she explains, “even though they would be charging less for data they would receive more customers which would increase profits in the long term”.
South Africans are paying US$28 or R342 for broadband that has an average speed of 4.8 megabits per second whereas developed countries such as the UK are paying US$3 or R37 for 24 megabits per second.