The digital divide is a problem that affects many parts of South Africa. Many people are not able to use the internet to access information that is important to them. Some have limited access to computers and mobile devices. A large percentage of the population is unable to afford internet access. This divide is also a major barrier to the growth of the economy.
African countries have developed regional and national initiatives to overcome the digital divide. While this effort is helpful, more attention is needed to bridge the gap. Countries need significant investment in middle-mile and last-mile networks. In addition, policies must address the social and infrastructure barriers that are stopping people from accessing the internet.
Despite this progress, the African continent still lags behind the world’s averages in internet connectivity. Currently, more than 871 million people in the continent are not on the internet. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace estimates that by 2021, more than a third of the population will be without internet. Those with access to the internet are better able to access important information and shop online. Without internet, many government websites are inaccessible.
There is a need to develop a new model for bridging the digital divide in sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, African nations need to invest significantly in last-mile networks and middle-mile networks. Investing in these networks can help eliminate barriers to connectivity and improve the user experience. However, the cost of connectivity must become more affordable.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s unique social, economic and cultural factors demand a new approach for addressing the digital divide. These factors include low economic development, gender discrimination, socio-cultural diversity, HIV/AIDS pandemic, and language barriers.
The most critical issue is affordability of data and devices. Currently, the monthly cost of a basic internet-enabled device in sub-Saharan Africa is more than 120 percent of a person’s income. Moreover, many individuals and students cannot purchase prepaid data bundles because of the high cost.
Another key barrier to mobile internet adoption is the lack of skills. Developing people’s skills is essential for using technology to benefit themselves. Unfortunately, this is a challenge that companies are not able to address quickly. For example, some university students depend on Internet cafes to complete their assignments. Additionally, the Zika virus highlighted emerging risks around privacy and cybersecurity.
The World Bank has launched several projects to address the digital divide in Africa. These include mentoring through universities, electronic identification, and family support programs. They also aim to build digital hubs that will enable local communities to develop their own content and services. It is expected that these projects will have a significant impact on the digital divide in the region.
Although the digital divide in Africa is a complex problem, an internal consensus is present to overcome it. More research is required to identify new models that can bridge the divide. But in the meantime, African nations need to continue investing in mobile broadband and backbone networks.