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Mozilla-backed research reveals the main barriers to internet access in Kenya

A couple of days ago I received a press release on Mozilla-backed research carried out by Research ICT Africa that found that significant barriers to internet access remain in Kenya. The research aimed to understand, from a comparative perspective, how Kenyan citizens use the internet when data is subsidized, and when it is not. The research also revealed that many Kenyans remain offline due to prohibitive costs and security fears. The detailed findings include:

  • Social media tops the list of uses for the internet and there is even a perception among some users that the internet is about social media.
  • The price of data bundles and internet-enabled phones render the cost of doing what most users want to do online prohibitive to many.
  • Strategic solutions for high costs include working late into the night before reward bundle periods expire, visiting friends who have Wi-Fi at home, and using multiple promotions from different operators.
  • Even when people have smartphones, they do not always carry them for offline security reasons. In particular, there are concerns that, thieves may frequent areas with free public Wi-Fi in order to steal patrons’ internet enabled devices
  • National network coverage was seen to be a challenge for both voice and data particularly in rural areas.

The findings as above tell an interesting story. We know for instance that over 7 million Kenyans use Facebook and when you look at all the other popular social media platforms in Kenya such as Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Linkedin, there must be over 10 million social media users in Kenya. This suggests that for the majority of Kenyans social media IS the Internet as this where they spend the bulk of their digital consumption time.

Given the nature of a market like Kenya, socio-economic factors are a major factor when it comes to the affordability and accessibility of the Internet. As much as prices for mobile data bundles have dropped by over 70% during the last few years, they are still out of reach for many Kenyans. That coupled with the fact that Internet access can be spotty and slow when you leave the major cities and towns in the country and you can see rural users would be the most affected.

I recently did some desktop research using insights from Safaricom and the Communications Authority and my best guess at this juncture is that we have around 12+ million smartphones across all the mobile networks in Kenya? This is an impressive number probably due to lots of used and new low-cost smartphones in the market. Indeed, smartphones have become a major driver for Internet access in Kenya for the majority of the population. However, we know that the main drivers are instant messaging services like WhatsApp for low-cost communications.

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