Internet penetration has risen significantly in Zimbabwe over the past 9 years. There was an increase of 0.8% to reach 50.8% in 2017 from 50% recorded in 2016 as reported by the Telecoms Regulator. The increase has also driven vast expansion in mobile broadband connections which have been trending with the increase in mobile data usage. Although the potential usage of the internet is largely unexplored, social media platform a has gained momentum as a major source of communications. This increase was driven by WhatsApp and Facebook bundles which have respectively contributed to the increased data usage that has redefined internet consumption.
According to ITU Annual Report for SSA (Sub-Saharan Africa), “The internet penetration has been consistently increasing in line with the growing number of active internet and data subscription as the availability and accessibility of devices improves”. Mobile internet and data usage increased by 89.8% to record 15.4 billion Megabytes in 2017 from 8.1 billion Megabytes of data consumed in 2016. (Potraz FY-2017).
“The total number of active internet subscriptions increased by 3.7% to reach 6,971,617 from 6,721,947 subscriptions recorded in 2016,” noted Potraz.
The diffusion of the internet cannot be measured only interns of the number of connected individuals but also in terms of accessibility. There are factors that still impede the accessibility of internet in Zimbabwe unless something is done the potential use of the internet will remain unexplored despite its rocketing in recent years. Most people still believe that internet access is a luxury, which they cannot afford I ignoring the advantage that comes with the use of the internet. It’s difficult to find places they can access the internet, moreover, internet use is mainly an urban phenomenon. The Internet is expensive despite the fact that broadband is becoming more affordable over the years, it is still highly priced in Zimbabwe due to a lot of factors. If the government can implement policies that promote and encourages smartphone access, although there was a 7.9% increase reach 102.7% in 2017 on mobile penetration, broadband pricing and expanding public access in areas where this hasn’t been prioritized internet usage will definitely increase.
Through there was a slight increase in Internet penetration, it is likely to bring positive change in Zimbabwe in terms of socio-economic welfare. Internet usage can contribute to profitability, productivity, competitiveness and survival of SME’s. However, a large number of companies are still yet not connected to the web. This is another important and yet vastly unexplored opportunity for sector growth.
Dalberg 2013 stated that “internet connectivity removes the need for proximity to customers allowing business to market their products outside of their local community and consequently have access to broaden the pool of clients and customers.” Yet e-commerce has not been growing fast enough, with the cash shortages e-commerce was going to be the saviour and more convenient measures to tackle this nightmare.
E-commerce is being hindered by lack of support services such as delivery systems with only 7.1% decline in overall courier and postal service as reported by (Potraz FY-2017) this figure is very low. The other factor that is hindering the growth in e-commerce is the suspension of online payments by most banks due to the currency instability.
It cannot be disputed that internet penetration is increasing, however, a lot still needs to be done. Policymakers and business leaders must work hand in hand to enable improved conditions of the internet ecosystem.
Although the government has initiated a number of policies to improve the internet usage and access, we still lagging behind in the technological world. Access and infrastructure are still limited to the urban areas, the quality and stability of internet connection remain a major obstacle to improved Internet penetration.
The South African government has developed a broadband policy which set to target universal average downloading speed of 10 Mbps by 2030. It is up to the government to minimize or remove the obstacles that are hindering internet penetration by lowering costs of internet access, device and equipment this will generate a greater incentive to engage with internet usage.