17/03/2017 05:15 SAST | Updated 17/03/2017 06:22 SAST

Data Will Fall And Africans Must Rise When It Happens

Internet access in Africa is improving, but #DataMustFall and digital skills must rise to harness the economic potential.

Over 500 million Africans are expected to become internet users by 2020 but digital literacy across the continent must improve so Africans can feel the economic benefits, says Google South Africa.

The internet giant announced on Wednesday that one million Africans have been provided with digital skills training in the last year by Google and its private and public partners. US tech company IBM has also announced it will spend R945 million rolling out its digital skills initiative in South Africa and it hopes to provide training to 25 million people in South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt, according to Business Report.

Massive growth in the number of smartphones owned by Africans has generated new opportunities for entrepreneurs across the continent, Google South Africa's head of communications Mich Atagana told Huffington Post South Africa.

"A street hawker, for example, could create a map pin of where they are on the street and indicate their operating times to consumers," she said. "People can also use various platforms online to market their products instead of relying on word of mouth and even reach global markets."

While the number of Africans using mobile internet is expected to rise from 28 percent of the continent's total population in 2016 to 39 percent in 2020, according to a 2017 GSMA report, sporadic connectivity and high data costs remain an impediment to equal access, Atagana says.

Relative to other BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — South Africa's contract data tariffs are the highest after Brazil once rebased using the Cost of Living Index, according to a 2016 comparison by Tariffic. South Africa's cheapest 1GB data package ranks as the 16th most expensive out of 47 African countries' assessed by Research ICT Africa in 2016. The report noted that Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria have better data prices relative to South Africa.

"Data costs and connectivity remain a major issue across the continent, but I do believe that data will fall and we will get to a stage when it is cost effective," Atagana said. "When this day comes and people are online, Africans need to be ready," she said.

The objective of the digital skills training on offer in this respect is not to "turn everyone into digital marketers or app creators," Atagana said. "What we want is for people to understand the basic mechanics of what it means to be online and use digital to grow their talents."

Atagana said that Google SA is considering putting its digital training content into an offline "toolkit" so that it can be accessed without using mobile data. The company has already made some of the content available in transcript form as an alternative to video to reduce users' personal costs.

President Jacob Zuma in his state of the nation address in February stressed that lowering data costs is "uppermost in our plans", although government is yet to detail how it plans to achieve this.