The number of black South Africans using the internet had surged by 68 percent in the past three years compared with a marginal increase of 13 percent among whites, according to a report released yesterday by BMI-TechKnowledge.
The study, which surveyed people aged between 16 and 50, showed that most black people did not have access to internet at home and only used it at work and school.
Natalie Thayer, general manager of MWeb Home, said the growth in internet use among black people was very encouraging, but costs and access to telephone lines, especially in townships, were holding back the development.
Brian Neilson, research director at BMI-TechKnowledge, said: "A huge gap still exists in terms of the equality of access … and affordability remains the one key gap that needs to close in order for this market [black people] to really see growth and reap the benefits of technology."
Arthur Goldstuck, the managing director of World Wide Worx, said the internet companies were "paying lip service" to lowering prices to make the service accessible to people who could not afford it.
However, consumers can expect cheaper tariffs as companies such as signal distributor Sentech and internet service provider (ISP) iBurst yesterday introduced new entry-level packages to attract subscribers.
Nashua Mobile this week launched its internet division, which will offer both fixed-line and wireless broadband services.
Two weeks ago, cellular operator MTN lowered internet charges by 20 percent, allowing subscribers to pay as little as 20c a megabyte.
Goldstuck said all ISPs had said Telkom internet access costs had come down significantly and the benefits would filter down to the public.
Research firm Africa Analysis said this week broadband subscribers were expected to grow to 1.8 million by 2011.