According to DataReportal, there were 5.74 million internet users in Zimbabwe at the beginning of 2023. That is 34.8% of the population. This data comes from the International Telecommunications Union. That sounds too quiet, doesn’t it?
The last sector report we have from the Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (Potraz) dates from the third quarter of 2023 and speaks of an internet penetration rate of 63.9%.
That’s quite a difference; 34.8% vs. 63.9%. These may be two different time periods, but it is highly unlikely that we would see such a decrease in internet penetration rate from September 2022 to January 2023. So what’s up?
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We’ve encountered this problem before. It depends on who collects the data and who they consider internet users. Where one says someone who has connected to the internet in the last 90 days is a user, another may look at the last 30 days.
This could be the reason for the huge differences in the reported internet penetration rates. One might also wonder if Potraz, a government agency, would collect this data using classifications that provide the most flattering result. A high Internet penetration rate is something a government can boast of. I am not saying that this is the case, but it must be taken into account.
This is not trivial as business decisions are made based on these numbers. An internet population of 9.7 million as reported by Potraz is much larger than the 5.7 million reported by DataReportal.
What else about these netizens?
The same DataReportal report shows that only 52.7% of the population has access to electricity. So is it any wonder that only 34.8% of the population has access to the internet?
We know that solar energy is becoming increasingly popular in the country, but for many it’s still only good enough to provide lighting. Do not charge devices that allow internet access.
The other thing about the local reality is that 64.5% of the population earns less than $3.65 a day. That’s less than $110 a month. The situation is even worse for people in rural areas. In 2021, we found out that the average monthly income there was only $75.
With such low incomes, one would not expect to be able to buy many devices and data packages. Econet’s 10GB private WiFi package costs $12.06, which is 16% of a rural household’s monthly income. That’s a lot to ask when the $75 doesn’t even cover groceries and other basic needs.
Given the prevailing economic conditions, we cannot expect the internet penetration rate to change much in the near future. It will continue its slow but steady rise. In 2020 we saw an increase of 12.3%, 21.3% in 2021, 2% in 2022 and 2.1% in 2023 to reach the 5.7 million we talked about above . You can see that growth has slowed significantly.
It could get worse
We can say that lack of finances is the main reason why most Zimbabweans did not use the internet in January.
For their part, the mobile network operators say they are unable to expand as they would like due to a lack of finance in the forex space. This leaves some areas with terrible coverage, reducing the likelihood that citizens there would invest in internet devices.
What’s crazy is that for the most part, the 5.7 million connected to the internet in January aren’t happy with the service they’re receiving. Two-thirds of the country were not connected to the internet, while the one-third that were had a terrible experience.
These bad experiences need to be improved, otherwise it can become another factor that keeps people from connecting to the internet. In my own circle, due to the frequent service disruptions, people are starting to buy less data.
This could become a cycle if we’re not careful. Econet saw growth in both data and voice volumes in the third quarter of 2022, but the longer this situation is left unaddressed, the greater the risk that growth will slow.
Anyway, what do you think of all of this? Does the president’s motto of “leaving no one behind” sound hollow? Is your business affected by a low Internet penetration rate or do you not use the Internet for business at all? Let us know in the comment section below.
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