Access to the Internet changes peoples’ lives. The fact that the internet has become an all-encompassing and essential part of global daily life has become self-evident.  It has been proven that access to the Internet has a direct and positive impact on individual lives and a region’s economic development in the digital age. And yet, according World Economic Forum White paper titled WEF Internet for All Framework Accelerating Access Adoption still more than 55% of the world’s population still do not use the internet.

Annual Digital Growth 2017 - Cape Digital Foundation
South Africa – Annual Digital Growth from January 2016 – January 2017 (We are Social)

According to their report on South African Internet access in 2017, World Wide Worx reports that the South African Internet user population passed the 20-million mark for the first time in 2016 – reaching 40% penetration (based on StatsSA’s estimate of a total population of 55.9 million).  This is expected to grow to at least 22.5-million in 2017 meaning that 36.8 million, or 59% of the population, are not on line.  To use a localised example, according to UCT’s Youth Explorer Portal which launched on Youth Day 2017, 48.6% of youths in Khayelitsha in the Western Cape live in households with zero access to the Internet. Of those who are online 24% use their mobile phones to connect to the Internet.

Here are four essential steps in South Africa’s adaptation into becoming a digital society:

  1. Provide affordable, accessible Internet
    The lack of accessibility and high cost of data is a major concern – particularly with mobile data in South Africa remaining among the most expensive in Africa and the world.  South Africa needs widely accessible Internet at a price that is comparatively affordable to the average household.
  1. Stimulate demand for the Internet through relevant local content
    There remains a large segment of the offline population in South Africa that lacks awareness of the value of the internet or a compelling reason to go online. Cultural acceptance can also be a hindrance to people ongoing online – even in better developed countries.  To stimulate demand for the Internet it is important to promote the development and use of relevant local content , and to make sure that this is available to people in a format and language that applies to them.
  1. Build digital literacy through the supply of relevant local content
    Building digital literacy within a community does not only take place in a classroom. The WEF Internet for All Report states:  Digital ecosystems that produce local content and apps are vital for building digital literacy, attracting local users and serving local needs. Digital services can also address local problems and boost competition in an increasingly international digital services market. In addition, using the internet can have a significant impact on local businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
  1. Facilitate partnerships on the ground
    Building a switched-on digital community requires providing a lot of value, and being responsive to that community. It is at a local level, with impact on the day-to-day lives of people in the Western Cape that Cape Digital Foundation will facilitate partnerships that play a part in putting an end to the lack of affordable Internet coverage or connectivity.  The Foundation believes that it is essential to educate and attract local users who generate local content that serves local needs.  This is how the Internet adds value to people’s lives, gives birth to new industries, creates jobs and makes individuals and communities self sustaining.
What are the foundational building blocks in creating an all-inclusive digital society in South Africa?

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