Research ICT Africa published a new study assessing Internet access in ten African countries. It revealed that many African countries are far from global target since they do not have complementary policies required to harness new technologies and Internet-related services, which adversely impacts the current inequalities. The Internet penetration is less than 25% in many African countries which demonstrates that these countries do not reap the benefits of network associated with economic growth and development. The research also showed that some countries. i.e. Lesotho, Rwanda and South Africa, have more than 50% Internet penetration rate, however, considerable percentage of the population remained unconnected. For many countries, the main challenge is affordability of smart devices and data services and lack of awareness. Therefore, the study suggests that the digital inequalities is not between the connected and unconnected but rather between the haves and have-nots of skills and financial resources which represent the biggest policy challenge in the region. As a result, the study provides a number of policy recommendations to overcome the challenge of having extensive coverage with large proportion of the population unconnected.
The need for people to gain access to ICT resources and narrow the digital divide is crucial, and is especially relevant now in the light of the Sustainable Development Goals. It is also important to understand how access to the Internet affects the level of economic and social development in a country.
Internet access is growing rapidly, yet large groups of people remain unconnected to the Internet. As of 2015, about 43% of people had access to the Internet (in developing countries only 34%). Access to ICTs is part of the Sustainable Development Agenda, which commits to ‘significantly increase access to ICTs and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020’ (Goal 9.c).
The digital divide can be defined as a rift between those who, for technical, political, social, or economic reasons, have access and capabilities to use ICT/Internet, and those who do not. Various views have been put forward about the size and relevance of the digital divide.