State of the internet in South Africa versus Africa and the World (May 2017)

Published May 2017

In this article, when I say “internet” as in my title “State of the internet…” I am referring to the overall access of digital data information via Apps, web browsing, social media and those clever devises using the internet such as phones, and smart cars, etc.
So this article is written using generalized understanding and colloquialism.
Likewise with a lot of the information I researched, there are conflicting reports. So I have done some averaging. With my disclaimers done, onwards:

Everyone can imagine the internet is growing, but by how much? How important is the internet in SA, Africa and the World?

It is fact that if the internet was not here, the human race would digress. The internet in many ways sets the pace for our own progressive and modern ways, therefore the internet must be expanding its possibilities at a faster pace than our own populations.

The internet is not the same in each country. The main conclusion and argument I have made for myself writing this article is that there appears to be a pattern for more successful countries that have greater access to free or well-priced internet.

I am left asking, will your country do better if it has more internet access? Look at this comparison of some of the countries with the fastest internet.

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

Now look at this list of countries with access. There is a difference between a countries speed of internet and access.

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

World overview for access:

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

Now, compare these what you have seen with the following GDP overview, 2016:

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

Is it possible, that those countries with the fastest internet and most access to internet have better G.D.P.?

Japan has 90% access, one of the fastest connections, and has the 4th largest GDP in the world.

The United States, greatest GDP, with 74% internet access.

South Korea, fastest internet in the world, 11th position for GDP, and 89% access.

There is a remarkable connection and pattern. Of course, it all has to be taken in context, and depending on how you scale and judge, one can argue many points. For example, South Korea has the highest level of the fastest internet. Does that make them best? Would you want a country that has a few people with Ferrari car, or every person with a V.W. car?

I would say its best everyone has a car. So I argue access is more important than speed. Also, access to faster internet depends in South Africa on your budget. We have faster internet in South Africa, most people cannot afford it.

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

So, summary so far:

Everyone’s GDP would drop if the internet went down.

Those countries with greater internet in one way or another appear to be doing better.

Let’s continue:

If the state of the internet in a country was used to gauge a country’s rankings world wide, where would South Africa be?

World wide, the ability for the internet to send information, which is actually done in packets of data, not a streaming, is getting so fast, that it is just about fast enough world wide to stream enough information for standard definition TV-quality video. Unfortunately, South Africa’s average connection speed is well below the average. Embarrassingly we are around the 90th on the scale, our country has an average connection speed below 1 Mbps – from our fixed lines. Mobile internet is less than this, sometimes almost half. At one point, our internet speeds were decreasing! This might cause you to worry, but really I don’t think you need too, the UK is slipping down the charts in terms of internet speed, currently only 3 times faster than South Africa’s internet.

But as I have said, speed is not the only way to rank our status.

52% of South Africans have access to the internet. That is around 27 million people. These 27 million people only make up around 0.8% of the internet users world wide.

Here is a shocking fact: our small 0.8 % still makes up the majority percentage of internet on the entire continent of Africa. Over 50% of internet access in Africa is in South Africa! That means, Africa as a continent is really in a poor state. Is this supportive of our continents GDP contribution? Africa is listed as 5th in continental contributions of world wide GDP. Oceania and Antarctica are below us, and they have so few people compared to elsewhere. Asia, Europe and North America top three, and they have the countries with the greatest access, fastest connections and most competitive if not free internet options.

Does this mean African countries are bad? Many people will argue Africa is one of the poorest continents. Some argue it is where the most growth will happen over the next few decades, but that might be obvious because if you are on the ground level you can only really go up.

10 years ago, only 4 million people had access to the internet in South Africa. Compared to now, access has boomed! But has it really, compared to world wide growth?

Could our access be higher if the cost of data in South Africa was not so costly?

The majority of internet users in South Africa are grouped in terms of income, earning between 30 000 and 70 000 ZAR / month – taking a 27% bite of the internet’s use, followed closely by the 16 000 – 30 000 ZAR / month income group taking 24% of our internet.

Out of these users, I have to assume, we are making crossroads into our ecommerce market, as South Africa’s online shopping moves between 1% and 2% of the total world wide online shopper economy. This means and let us call it “our ecommerce GDP” has doubled.

Do you know, all costs considered, South Africa is still around the 20th cheapest country in the world to live? Then why is it, we have some of the most expensive data tariffs?

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

12 % of our internet use is Facebook, so we are very social.

Most users are under 25, and the majority of users are male.

There is a 58% active user base for internet shopping in SA, which is 30% behind South Korea. A leader in the field.

The most popular websites in South Africa are news24, IOL and then DSTV.

In South Africa, we have around 7 million or more IP addresses. There are around 4.1 billion IP addresses in the world. An IP address is a unique string of numbers separated by full stops that identifies each computer using the Internet Protocol to communicate over a network – so basically, it’s a “”connection” on the internet. A PC connected to the internet will have 1 IP address.

Do cell phones have IP addresses? Is this important? Of course, most people access the internet using their phones. To answer my own question, yes cell phones have IP numbers.

Not to complicate things, every device on the Internet has two IP#s: a public and a private one. But let’s not complicate things. My point here is most people in South Africa, and following suite, in Africa, use their cell phones for access to the internet.

There are around 80 million active sim cards in South Africa, that’s almost double our entire population.

Cost. The main issue here.

Over 50% of our internet users are using phones, through data bundles / contracts, and averaging 1 gig of data per month.

Our per gig data packages, compared to data world wide are some of the highest! I really enjoyed the #DataMustFall movement, and using information for the international pricing comparison from BRICS-member countries, South Africa is the second most costly.

The sad things is, most data is used for social activities. Whatsapp used the most data, followed by facebook. This means, we not even using the internet to make money! We just spending it!

That is simply an unfortunate fact in South Africa. World-wide issues with the internet at the moment are without a doubt these two items.


What a lot of people don’t understand is the state of the internet impacts the entire world, factors such a data use, safety, breaches, cybercrime, trust, control with governments, policy reform, ability to trade, communicate, socialize, you name it. Internet security a major problem because it reduces the users trust for online services.

There is an absolute love hate relationship shared for the internet. That is for the individual. Corporates are operating at another level. There is a common saying with internet security “There are two types of companies, those who have been hacked, and those who do not know they have been hacked”.

A lot of focus needs to shift onto prevention. Training people to be aware of risk and using technology to support.

Some interesting charts taken from the internet:

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

Quick observation:

Data on individual stats does not appear to feature high, but this does not mean it is not happening. I just think a company is more likely to report and record cybercrime.

In South Africa, most people don’t have the first idea how to report a crime of this nature. This is a major problem.

What does cybercrime cost individuals? I personally know of several people, and their loss has always been in the thousands.

In 2015, the cost of data breaches for corporates world-wide was at 500 billion USD, and set to be around 2.1 Trillian by 2019.

That is nearly 2.5 % of the entire World’s GDP!

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

Two interesting case studies:

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

My personal case study was my friend’s father, who responded to a fake ABSA spam mail. Was redirected to a site, and then entered his account information, giving access directly to the criminal who emptied the account. His father not knowing what to do, went to ABSA, because the email had an ABSA logo on it, and was turned away because ABSA actually had no connection at all.

He lost 3 months savings.

We need to be educated on risk, and no one is doing that. Most people in South Africa, and Africa, who make up the majority of my followers on my facebook and personal website have no idea on the risks. We are so far behind, we are still trying to build our digital home, never mind trying to secure it from break ins.

In South Africa, we are sandwiched in.

We are trying to develop a digital landscape and at the same time protect it.

It will only help us increase our development speed if we learn the basics on internet risk, and training of staff to identify likely forms of attack. We need to keep our software up to date, so training and software are our first two weapons we need to arm ourselves with. It is nice to know that South Africa participates in regional efforts to combat cybercrime. The East African Community (consisting of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda) and the South African Development Community (consisting of Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) have both enacted plans to standardize cybercrime laws throughout their regions. Good teamwork.

Onto my next issue:


Which is unfortunately a twofold challenge:

Affordable data.

As already explained, the cost of data in South Africa is simply not cheap enough, so we end up cutting back on its use, and I truly believe this stunts our economy. Our businesses run at greater costs, which means our prices to clients are higher, therefore in general we are a more costly option to trade with, locally, and internationally.

What to do? This is hard question to answer.

We have a fixed line operator with a monopoly and if I can take this opportunity to announcement that as of May 2017 is a provider not being used by my company after a massive over billing of 30 000.00 ZAR, and a long company decision to invite my clients to use data calls, whatsapp and voice notes to communicate with our offices.

Back to my point, that when the fixed line option for faster internet is controlled by one company, which happens to be a Public, State-owned corporation (39% shares), there is no competition for better pricing.

This means, we move away to mobile operators, the largest one in terms of clients is Vodacom, who pay around 9 billion + in collective taxes per year. This is interesting, because that is a huge chunk of funds to our government, and guess what, the company is owned 13.9% by our state.

So, fixed line and largest cell company are linked to the state.

It stands to reason, a lot of our communication, and therefore data is profitable for our state coffers… but are we shooting ourselves in the foot? Would our country, its people, its business do better if data was less? Surely access would increase, and we would fall into the category of countries who stand a better chance?

Would our state coffers run dry, if we stopped user Vodacom and Telkom?

Is corruption at play here?

Another interesting fact, our government owns 74% of Broadband Infraco. Infraco, another state owned entity running at a loss, but holding a monopoly of services in its fields.

Second part of this section,

Government or legislation, limiting or controlling access.

There is a scary new censorship law, dubbed to be Africa’s worst censorship law. The act allows the Film and Publication Board (FPB) unrestricted powers over online content.

The bill was proposed to fight undesirable content, which includes racism, child pornography, and bullying. This all sounds well and good, but who decides what is undesirable content? FPB’s proposed Online Regulation Policy takes aim at all online content, including YouTube videos, online games, and “certain publications”. There is a window and opportunity for abuse here. Who gets to control the FPB board, and ensure it is not used for political agenda? For example, anyone perhaps decides to post a presidential penis onto a website, the FPB can step in and demand the host to shut down the website.

The fact is no one person, company, organization or government runs the Internet -- it is "a globally distributed computer network comprised of many voluntarily interconnected autonomous networks”. However, a country can control data! A country can control access. Most infrastructure needed to support the internet world wide has influence by local government through direct shares of a company. AT&T Inc, MCI (Acquired in 2006 by Verizon), Sprint, and CenturyLink also own some of the largest Internet backbone networks in the world. In South Africa, those who control Telkom and cell phone companies have the last say, they have the direct access to the user. But before internet even arrives on their network, it’s brought in:

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

Once the internet is in the country, one or more of these take over:

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

Telkom is the gatekeeper of all ADSL connections and owner of the largest fibre network in the country.

Openserve, new division of Telkom which controls wholesale access to South Africa’s only ADSL network!

Vocacom, has fibre infrastructure which it uses for backhaul for many of its cellular base stations, and to offer fixed-line residential and business fibre services.

These three entities are all linked to government. Can you see the opportunity for abuse here?

It is as if government might want to use data as an income revenue no matter the detrimental effects high data has on its people and business. If this was not the case, can someone explain why we are paying so much for data?

Here are some figures: ADSL is very expensive with prices well above world average, cost are around R165 for a 2Mbit/s "Fast" line, R299 for a 4Mbit/s "Faster", and R425 for the 10Mbit/s "Fastest" line. Fortunately, and for now, ADSL costs in South Africa have been decreasing steadily, mainly as result of competition from mobile network operators, but also due to the landing of the SEACOM cable.

Costs set aside, is censorship the main risk? While digital media freedom is generally respected in South Africa and political content is not censored, and we enjoy sme support for our courts, for example in September 2012, the Constitutional Court upheld a ruling that prescreening publications (including Internet content) as required by the 2009 amendments to the Films and Publications Act of 1996 was an unconstitutional limitation on freedom of expression, we need to be aware of the risks.

Access to information and therefore the internet is not about a modern day privilege, it is a necessity for survival.

We are not the worst off in South Africa. Blatant censorship of the Internet in nations like China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are scary.

So how free is access to the internet?

Sit down. This is a scary %.

In 2016, The Freedom on the Net reports suggests that less than 25% of the world enjoys full access to the internet by definitions access without Obstacles to Access, Limits on Content and Violations of User Rights

43% have partly free access,

29% no free access.

An interesting overview of “Enemies of the Internet and Countries under Surveillance lists

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

One very supportive fact I need to share in this article, is the roll out of free internet zones in South Africa. Already, we can enjoy internet for free at thousands of Restaurants and coffee shops. Then access at Libraries and 9 of our Airports. Then there is Project Isizwe & Wi-Fi cities. All great things. Of course, certain restrictions apply. I always get nervous when you get given something, and then terms apply. However, let’s give these good things a chance to benefit our people, and rather focus on what could we enjoy if South Africa in the future increases internet access, reduces its overall costs, and there are no limitations or censorships?

Business will boom!

Thousands of SMMEs will stand a much better chance.

In South Africa, our social internet could help reduce cultural tensions through information sharing.

International trade will be easier.

In context breaking country borders, the Internet and the Physical World, through artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will all merge.

The ‘Internet of Things’ will fully mature. Already, the internet can connect refrigerators, alarm clocks, and various other household appliances. In another 15 years or so, those connections will extend to vehicles, wallets, health monitors, and perhaps even our paper currency.

The spread of the Internet will enhance global connectivity, fostering more positive relationships among societies, extending out of our own borders. Well, that is the theory, the more we know, the less we fear. But, it could also bring on more conflict. Humans are funny that way. The spread of the “Ubernet” will diminish the meaning of borders, and new “nations” of those with shared interests may emerge online and exist beyond the capacity of current nation-states to control.

Great things to come!

But before, we need to tackle regulation, and the privatization of the telecommunication market. The mobile telephony market is generally more open and dynamic, probably because less shares in general owned by state.

Many African countries, like Kenya and Botswana have started a privatization process for Telkom Kenya and Botswana Telecommunications Corporation.

Fibre in South Africa is a big game changer, a few years back the average cost of South Africa’s broadband connectivity per month was 10 times higher than that of the UK. Fibre is not a new technology, and has been around for almost a decade in South Africa. It’s only recently become more visible and available to consumers due to the increase in companies which supply it, as demand for faster Internet increases.

The South Africa government plans to have fibre cables in place throughout South Africa by 2020, I just wonder if this deadline will be missed, several times like the digital tv deadline. I also wonder what % share the state will own and therefore control.

Why will the internet be successful in South Africa?

Will it be due to government support? We will have to see.

My belief the internet will succeed will be due to our governments weaknesses, not its strengths. You see, our state cannot respond quickly enough to challenges presented by complex network. This is due to indecision, missed deadlines, perhaps internal conflict.

South Africa will lead Africa, but we have to try close the gap world wide if we want to compete. Africa will follow our example, and if we learn to share and support, Africa will move up in its position as an internet user. Obstacles to the accessibility of Internet services in Africa include generally low levels of computer literacy in the population, followed by poor infrastructures, and high costs of Internet services. Hitting home, stable Power availiability also creates issues for internet.

Published May 2017


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