In this day and age, it is difficult to argue against the importance of connectivity. Access to the Internet has enriched the lives of millions and studies have shown that access to the Internet is vital. According to the World Economic Forum (2014), each additional 10% of Internet penetration can lead to a 1.2% increase in per capita GDP growth in emerging economies.
The Internet is the foundation of the digital economy and has become a platform for education, communication, innovation, economic growth and social well-being. Many of us cannot imagine a life without the Internet. It has become so integral to our lives and a fundamental building block for a country and its citizens’ economic development.
In the Information Age, there is a fundamental distinction to be made between access to the Internet versus abundant or unlimited access. In South Africa, Internet access is relatively high, mainly due to the mobile networks, which have penetrated large sections of the population. This was largely achieved by introducing prepaid solutions to the lower-income groups.
While this went a long way to providing large portions of the population with Internet access, it has not given lower-income groups the benefit of Internet and information abundance. The cost of these services is still prohibitive relative to the data provided to the consumer. According to MyBroadband the cost of 1GB of prepaid data from the major mobile providers is around R150. The average income for a household in the lower-income bracket is approximately R3,000 per month. This means that an astonishing 5% of the entire household’s monthly income is spent on only 1GB of capped data.
This has far-reaching consequences. Consider the impact that Internet access has on one of the biggest challenges South Africa faces today – Education. The school child in Sandton working on a project due for the next day, with an uncapped high-speed connection, will be able to research the topic, watch videos, access educational resources online like Khan Academy, and so on. These online resources will greatly enhance understanding of the topic and beyond. In contrast, a child living in a lower-income area may only have access to a small amount of mobile data, if at all, and will not be afforded the same access to resources.
Without abundant affordable access to the Internet, the opportunity to learn and grow is substantially limited. Both children in this example have Internet access, but only one has Internet abundance and that difference is creating a digital divide which is extremely difficult to overcome.
This example illustrates the impact of the digital divide on education, but think what the impact of digital inequality might be on other aspects of our lives – from applying for jobs online, to finding information, to free Wi-Fi calling, to accessing online entertainment, socializing and starting your own business. All of these are made possible with access to unlimited and abundant Internet.
Abundant access to information is truly the key to unlocking potential.