SA’s broadband penetration: The way forward

It is no secret that a large part of South Africa is sitting on the wrong side of the digital divide.  A low percentage of South African households have computers while broadband penetration rates are even lower.

PC penetration rates

According to an estimate from technology research firm World Wide Worx South Africa had an installed base of PCs (including laptops and netbooks) of around 7.7-million at the end of last year.

“A little less than half of these are in households, with many households having multiple computers, so best case is about 6% household PC penetration,” said World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck.

The latest OECD statistics shows that 70.5% of households in OECD countries had access to a computer at home at the end of 2009 – more than ten times the local figure.

Broadband penetration rates

When it came to broadband the picture does not look any better.  South Africa currently has around 4 broadband connections per 100 inhabitants, well below the OECD standard of 23.3 fixed broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants.

When taking only fixed broadband connections into account South Africa’s broadband penetration rate falls to below 0.5% – multiple times lower than the lowest ranked OECD countries like Turkey (9%), Mexico (9.2%) and Chile (9.6%). 

OECD countries further have an average ‘households with broadband access’ percentage of 57.8, well above the local figure which most likely sits in the region of 10%. 

How to solve the problem

To resolve the problems of low PC penetration rates and poor broadband access is challenging in South Africa, not only because there are many households without basic services like electricity and water but also because of the low average household income in the country.

There are however a few things which could be done to improve South Africa’s situation.  Goldstuck advises more computer education and training, more subsidisation of computer purchases and an intensified focus on literacy in general.

Goldstuck further said that Government must become more aggressive in its stewarding of its 30% shareholding in Telkom to bring down the cost of landline usage, and hence enhance the potential of fixed line broadband.

“The Universal Services Agency must be tasked with enhancing broadband access for anyone who has a computer in rural and disadvantaged areas – which includes the poorer suburbs of the cities,” said Goldstuck.

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SA’s broadband penetration: The way forward