It's a digital world but SA's internet is slow and expensive

23 August 2019 - 11:58 By timeslive
SA places 40th out of 65 countries for 'digital quality of life'. We have to work on average 71 minutes to afford the cheapest broadband internet on offer and while the global median broadband speed is 54.62Mbps, SA's is a glacial 18.70Mbps.
SA places 40th out of 65 countries for 'digital quality of life'. We have to work on average 71 minutes to afford the cheapest broadband internet on offer and while the global median broadband speed is 54.62Mbps, SA's is a glacial 18.70Mbps.
Image: 123RF/RA2 STUDIO

South Africans are free to consume digital pornography but may not have the cash, nor the time, to watch it download.

This is revealed by a new global digital quality of life study, in which SA places a lowly 40 out of the 65 countries measured.

Mzansi citizens have to work 71 minutes to afford the cheapest broadband internet on offer, compared with countries like Israel (27 minutes), Japan (29 minutes) and Australia (21 seconds), according to privacy company Surfshark, which released the inaugural DQL study

Overall in 2019, the number of people using the internet has grown to 4.3-billion, equivalent to 57% of the world's population. 

The DQL index compares countries by various digital factors such as internet speed, affordability, cybersecurity and the availability of data protection laws as well as provision of e-government services.

The top five are Australia, France, Singapore, Norway and Japan.

The bottom five are Algeria, Ethiopia, Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan.

Surfshark commented: "Of the 10 countries with the lowest DQL indices, five are in different parts of Asia (Iraq, Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand, and Indonesia), four are in Africa (Algeria,Ethiopia, Egypt, and Morocco), and one is in South America (Ecuador).

"It's notable that internet speed and affordability, two factors which have the biggest influence on the quality of people’s digital lives, were exceptionally low in these countries.

"Also, people in these countries have fewer opportunities to legally access popular entertainment content databases and do not enjoy universal availability of e-government services, which suggests a widespread presence of traditional bureaucracy and an overall lack of institutional effectiveness."

Speedy internet

Collected data shows that the global median for broadband speed is 54.62 Mbps, which means that broadband internet is faster in 50% of the researched countries than in the other half.

South Africa's broadband speed was measured at 18.70Mbps.

Streaming Netflix Ultra HD requires a steady internet connection speed of 25.00 Mbps.

Singapore, Iceland, Canada, and South Korea, which are also in the top 10 of the countries with the fastest mobile internet, are among the leaders in broadband speeds. Singapore’s speeds are significantly higher than the others, with a broadband speed of 197.34 Mbps.

The study notes that Singapore, considered to be a digital research and development hub in Asia, attracts investment from major tech players. "The country’s economy relies heavily on its digital infrastructure."

The global median for mobile internet speed is 31.50 Mbps.

Mobile internet speeds vary extensively across the world, ranging from 6.00Mbps in Algeria to 73.93 Mbps in Iceland. South Africa measures 27.60Mbps.


In the broadband calculations, only the amount of work needed to afford the cheapest package available in the respective country is considered by the study, irrespective of what that package offers. The authors commented: "Although low figures may appear to illustrate inexpensive broadband connectivity, the very cheap packages in these countries may be very basic, with only minimal speed or download allowance."

The median number of hours of work needed to afford the cheapest broadband package is 2.17 hours.

Israel and Japan are the countries in which one needs to work the fewest hours to afford the cheapest available broadband package, at 0.45 hours and 0.48 hours, respectively

In Ethiopia, one has to work by far the most hours to afford the cheapest broadband package, at 61.50 hours.

"Considering the length of an average workweek there, broadband connectivity is generally accessible only to the wealthy.

"As in the case of mobile connectivity in Ethiopia, the underdevelopment of infrastructure is clearly visible throughout all the factors of this research that relate to internet accessibility. This suggests the need for investment in internet infrastructure to improve not only people’s digital lives and their general wellbeing, but also, in the longer term, boost the country’s economic development."

The global median for the price of a 1GB mobile internet data plan is $0.51.

The lowest value is in India, at $0.02 for 1GB.

In Australia, mobile data is the most affordable as one needs to work just 21 seconds to afford the cheapest 1GB mobile data package. "This is mostly influenced by the country’s high average monthly salary and comparatively inexpensive mobile data," the study noted.

"With the exception of India, where the average monthly salary is on the bottom end of the researched countries, other countries with the most affordable mobile internet are among the most affluent economies in the world."

The affordability of mobile data is very high in Israel, India, Slovenia, France, and Iceland, where one has to work less than a minute to afford the cheapest 1GB package.

This is closely followed by the UK, Italy, Denmark, and Finland, where less than two minutes of work are needed to afford a relatively sufficient amount of mobile data to cover one’s basic internet needs.

"With the exception of Ethiopia, where one needs to work 6 hours and 6 minutes to afford 1GB of mobile internet, all countries remain under one hour of work for 1GB of internet."


Internet pornography was generally available in Western Europe, the Americas, Russia, India, Australia, and South Africa, and generally illegal in Asia and elsewhere in Africa.

It was considered restricted in the UK, due to recent changes in the country's legislation, making it the only EU country with restricted access.

Internet pornography was blocked in Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Iran, Kuwait, Malaysia, Nepal, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, UAE, and Yemen. 

- The full report can be viewed here