Kenya’s Internet usage figures raise authenticity questions
Last week’s release of the telecommunications sector statistics covering the last quarter of the 2017/2018 financial year has once again raised more questions over the actual number of Internet users in Kenya.
According to the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) statistics, the total number of mobile subscribers stands at 45.5 million as of June this year, representing 97.8 per cent of the country’s population.
The report also states the number of mobile data subscriptions now stands at 40.7 million; a 38 per cent increase from 29.4 million recorded over the same period last year.
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Compared to indicators from similar studies conducted by other international bodies, it paints a more subdued picture of mobile and Internet penetration in Kenya. The UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) puts the number of mobile phone subscribers at 42.8 million as at 2017.
This translates to about 86 subscribers per 100 inhabitants.
The ITU measures mobile penetration by only accounting for subscribers who are active and recommends regulators use the same criteria.
“Only active subscriptions should be included (those used at least once in the last three months for making or receiving a call or carrying out a non-voice activity such as sending or reading an SMS or accessing the Internet,” explains the ITU in one of its statistics guidelines.
The CA compiles its report based on operator returns of sales figures during the quarter under review.
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This means the information is not controlled to exclude multiple SIM-card holders or inactive subscribers as per the ITU guidelines.
This can be misleading to policymakers and researchers who peg their data on the regulators’ sector statistics.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) relies on the same figures to draw up economic projections in the annual surveys.
Such a rosy presentation of connectivity in Kenya gives a false impression that could mislead investors into making wrong moves.
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To its credit, the CA has indicated plans to establish a more accurate measure of Internet penetration.
“The information on Internet penetration has not been included in this report because the authority is in the process of reviewing the methodology for estimating Internet Penetration in line with local needs and current market developments,” explained the CA in a note alongside the statistics.
A report by the Pew Research Centre released last week gives different insights into how Kenyans use the Internet.
The study looked at technology use in Kenya in comparison to Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania drawing interesting conclusions.
South Africa led the region in terms of Internet usage at 59 per cent with Senegal and Nigeria ranking second and third at 46 per cent and 42 per cent respectively.
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Ghana and Kenya tied in Internet use at 39 per cent with Tanzania trailing behind at 25 per cent.
The study also found that Internet users in sub-Saharan Africa primarily access the service through smartphones with ownership increasing across all the countries surveyed.
“The survey also finds that sub-Saharan Africans primarily use the Internet and their mobile phones for social and entertainment purposes, though many also use their mobile devices for sending and receiving payments,” said Pew Research Centre.
Kenya lagged behind her peers when it came to smartphone penetration with only 30 per cent of those surveyed responding to owning smartphones against 50 per cent who owned feature phones.
In contrast, more than 50 per cent of mobile phone subscribers in South Africa use smartphones as well as 35 per cent and 34 per cent of those in Ghana and Senegal respectively.
This pours cold water on Kenya’s claim of being the leader in the region in terms of digital connection - revealing the digital divide is only widening with significant populations falling behind as the world gets online.
Women, the poor, less educated and the aged were found to be less likely to have a smartphone or get online compared to their counterparts.
In Kenya, rich people are twice as likely to own a smartphone compared to poor people while educated adults thrice as likely than less educated ones according to some of the findings of the study that sampled and interviewed 1,117 Kenyans face to face.
This means millions of Kenyans are missing out on the digital dividends of connectivity such as real-time information, representation and having a voice in crucial debates.
Today, Kenyans turn to mobile-based lending as the first source of quick loans while WhatsApp has become synonmous with communication, social commentary and a key news source for many.
“Kenya and Nigeria are notable as two countries in which more internet users are going online to get information. In both countries, around six in 10 internet users say they go online to get political or government services information,” explained the study by Pew Research in part.
In Kenya, 87 per cent of users reported that the Internet was key to staying in touch with family and friends while 64 per cent and 38 per cent said they used the service to make or receive payments, look for or apply for a job.
At the same time, 68 per cent of users interviewed reported the Internet as having a positive impact on education while 54 per cent and 61 per cent stated it had a positive impact on the economy and personal relationships.
“In every country but Kenya, about half or more say the Internet has had a good influence on their country’s politics,” explains the study in part.
“The percentage of people saying the Internet has affected politics in a positive way ranges from 64 per cent in Nigeria to just 42 per cent in Kenya.”A recent report by the Guardian, UK, however, indicates an overall decline in Internet growth and a widening of the digital divide.
“The rate at which the world is getting online has fallen sharply since 2015 with women and the rural poor substantially excluded from education, business and other opportunities the Internet can provide,” read the report in part.
The report stated global Internet access has dropped from 19 per cent in 2007 to less than 6 per cent last year.
The State’s recent decision to introduce new excise taxes on data has been criticized by experts as retrogressive to boosting Internet adoption and use particularly among the poor.
“Countries that have a higher level of taxes and fees as a proportion of sector revenues tend to have relatively low levels of readiness for mobile Internet connectivity, as measured by the GSMA’s Mobile Connectivity Index,” said the GSMA in a 2018 report on the state of the mobile economy.
“Taxation levied on mobile, over and above standard rates, exacerbates affordability and coverage barriers for the underserved,” said GSMA.
It stressed that taxes and fees form up to 35 per cent of revenues for MNOs in 12 Sub-Saharan African countries.
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