Spreading insight on African Internet

JOHANNESBURG -- Insights Africa is a recently launched website that hopes to do exactly what its name says it does - shine some light on how and why Africans go online.
Written by Dave Mayers, Correspondent, Johannesburg

JOHANNESBURG -- Insights Africa is a recently launched website that hopes to do what exactly what its name says it does -- shine some light on how and why Africans go online.

Partnering with British market researchers Basis Research Ltd and Egyptian software company Bright Creations, Google set out to canvass a few Sub-Saharan countries "to understand people's behaviors and attitudes when it comes to the Internet" Karina Przyjemski said in a statement released on the launch of the site.

The research was conducted over the course of two years in six African countries. Fieldwork consisted of 13,000 face-to-face interviews across Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and Nigeria where people were asked how they use the Internet, if they use it at all.

Insights Africa is the continuation of a project that produced Insights MENA (Middle East and North Africa) last year. Both sites allow for real-time comparisons between countries, age groups and genders, making quick visualizations almost effortless.

While a first-of-its-kind tool for the continent, there are clear omissions and limitations with the site. With the exception of Senegal, the survey covers only English speaking countries that are former British colonies. Google admits that its researchers only sampled "urban men and women," skewing the results. It's safe to say that a survey of reasons why rural Africans don't go online would be quite different from the reasons of African urbanites.

Internet penetration across the continent has increased steadily over the last few years, but the Internet is still foreign to the majority of Africans. A recent South African study by World Wide Worx and the local MSN portal reported that in the past year alone Internet usage increased 25 percent in the country, climbing from 6.8 to 8.5 million users.

While encouraging, these numbers also point to a simple yet vexing truth throughout the region:  most people still don't use the Internet. In the richest country on the continent, only 17 percent of the population goes online regularly. Those 8.5 million South African Internet users live in a country with more than 40 million people who aren't connected.

There are moves to change this. Telkom, the state-owned telecommunications company is slowly being forced to break up its monopoly on fixed line Internet infrastructure. It's hoped that added competition among Internet providers will drive down costs and make the Internet more affordable to many more South Africans.

A host of new undersea cables that are also making their way to South Africa will increase the overall cable capacity in the country from a paltry 2.7 terabits a second to 11.9 by the end of the year. That capacity is planned to double in 2013.

Photos: International Institute for Communication and Development/Flickr and Insights Africa

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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