According to a report released this week at the Internet Governance Forum, South Africa has fallen a long way in the African rankings since 2000, when it had 2.4 million subscribers representing 53 percent of internet users across the continent.
In 2009 South Africa represents only nine percent of Africa’s total internet subscriber base, with 5.1 million users.
Between December 2000 and 2008, South Africa added only about 2.7 million new subscribers to its internet user base, compared to the 10 million added by Nigeria, eight million by Egypt, seven million by Morocco and three million by Kenya.
The majority of South African internet users access the net from work.
"Over the past 10 years the rest of Africa has grown its internet subscriber base at 10 times the pace of rich, industrialised South Africa," said William Stucke, a member of the management committee of the Internet Service Providers’ Association of South Africa.
"We’re a long way off from having satisfactory internet penetration and must ask ourselves what has gone wrong."
The slow pace of deregulation has always been blamed for the high telecoms prices that kept internet access down.
There have been many interventions by the industry, as part of its licence obligations and corporate social investment, to increase telecoms services such as internet in underserved areas, but somehow that is not closing the gap. Some of those plans have fallen by the wayside because of high prices and a lack of community usage.
The government must act quickly in rolling out its broadband plans to underserved areas. Included in that initiative should be equipment such as computers, so those people can access the internet and related services.