OTT services have become the main entry point to the Internet for most users in the prepaid mobile environment that characterises most African markets. To entice price-sensitive users and to encourage new Internet users, the availability of subsidised data – whether discounted or free – prompts questions of how Internet access and use are affected. Does it enable access to the Internet for first-time users? Does it improve the intensity of use, allowing people to explore the Internet without concerns of cost? Does it lock people into pared-down versions of social networking platforms?

This comparative country study, based on focus groups conducted in November 2016 in Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa, sought to develop evidence of why people, use the Internet the way they do, specifically when their data is subsidised.

This study serves to nuance the quantitative evidence used for policymaking. To this end, the report indicates that subsidised data does not limit the extent of Internet use, but rather that the extent of Internet use needs to be understood in relation to several contextual factors. Internet users make use of subsidised data to manage their data costs together with other tactics.

‘Beyond access’ challenges require a rights-based approach to deal with barriers such as privacy and security online by ensuring and raising awareness thereof, for example. The possibilities of achieving this in a digital context where offline rights do not exist is one of the biggest challenge for many countries.

Analysis based on country cases by Margaret Nyambura (Kenya), Fola Odufuwa (Nigeria), Albert Nsengiyumva (Rwanda), Lwando Mdleleni, Mpho Moyo, and Sinethemba Mthimkhulu (South Africa)

Beyond Access Public Policy Paper series, 2017.
Series Editor: Alison Gillwald

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