Public Lecture: Understanding the paradox of digital inequality as more Africans come on line

New demand-side research undertaken in 16 countries in the Global South, shows vast variances in Internet penetration between and within regions, with the majority of people in many countries having not heard of the Internet or do not know how to use it.

In South Africa, more women own mobile phones than men and there are no significant differences between men and women in relation to Internet take up, whereas in the less developed economies such as Rwanda, which has the lowest Internet penetration of the African countries surveyed, the disparity between men and women is greatest.

Like mobile phone ownership did for voice, mobile broadband is driving Internet take-up across Africa. Driven by social networking, access to the Internet remains very limited across most of the African countries with only 30.2 percent of Nigerians, the biggest economy in Africa, online. Urban users are also found to far outstrip rural users in all three regions. Even if there is mobile broadband coverage, people are not necessarily coming online.

“Addressing digital inequality will require completely new ways of thinking about licensing, regulating, assigning spectrum and universal service obligations that have done so little to bring the poor online and devise new enabling, innovative, complementary and adaptive systems of governance and business that are able not only to deal with the complexity of the dynamic information ecosystem, but harness it for the citizens in developing countries,” Dr Alison Gillwald