Too often the debate around connecting the unconnected is dominated by emotion and assumptions. Empirical, on-the-ground research can help improve this debate and inform access solutions. The results of research in seven countries are presented here. Researchers sought to learn more about how people are using zero rated and other subsidized offerings. Does it change how they use the internet? What are their expectations, motivations, and behaviors?

A summary of the findings is available here.

India

Earned Reward Applications: Users’ Perspectives from India

Gayani Hurulle and Helani Galpaya, LIRNEasia

This study investigates the use and effect of “earned reward applications” – applications that engage users in a series of micro-tasks to earn rewards – in India. Key findings: Cost conscious consumers were skeptical. Difficulty in retrieving rewards and lack of content prevented long-term use. Mobile e-commerce became popular following demonetization. None of the users limited their internet experience to the promoted ads on these applications. Fears of a “tunneling effect” on users seem premature.

To read more, see the blog post and full report.

Peru

Uses and Adoption of the Internet

Roxana Barrantes Cáceres and Daniela Ugarte Villalobos, IEP Instituto de Estudios Peruanos

This study examines internet use in Peru: perceptions of internet use, current internet uses, and how use differs with and without subsidized data. Access conditions, geography, age, education, literacy, gender, and socio-economic level all influence respondents’ understanding and adoption of the internet. Zero rating plans are used most by respondents under the age of 30, although no users reported coming online through zero rated plans. Zero rating did increase frequency and amount of internet use, without limiting use to just the subsidized services. Reasons for non-use were also explored.

To read more, see the blog post, summary, and full report.

Myanmar

Users’ Perspectives on Zero Rating in Myanmar and Implications for Net Neutrality

Peter Cihon and Helani Galpaya, LIRNEasia

This report examined two subsidized Facebook offerings, Free Basics and Telenor Free, and their effects on respondents use and understanding of the internet. Key findings: Respondents are largely unaware of free content on Free Basics other than Facebook and Messenger. Those who have used Free Basics use it infrequently; over half have stopped altogether in favor of paid data. Respondents pursue sophisticated data-cost management strategies that include using multiple SIMs, switching carriers for promotions, and using zero-rated services to access content for which they would otherwise pay. Although respondents commonly exit the zero-rated walled garden, few distinguish between the walled garden and open internet. For some respondents, Facebook is the internet.

To read more, see the blog post and full report.

Comparative Africa

Internet Use Barriers and User Strategies: Perspectives from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Rwanda

Chenai Chair, Research ICT Africa

This comparative study sought to develop evidence of why people in Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa use the internet the way they do, specifically when their data is and is not subsidised. Access to subsidised data does not serve as an ‘on ramp’ to the internet, but rather subsidised data helps users to manage their data costs through multiple use strategies in these African countries. Subsidised data does not limit the extent of internet use, but rather the extent of internet use needs to be understood in relation to several contextual factors, such as purpose of use, availability of local content, local culture of use, network quality and coverage, power sources, cost of data, gender relations, and literacy levels.

To read more, see the comparative blog post and comparative report.

Kenya

RIA Beyond Access Focus Group Research: Kenya Report

Margaret Nyambura Ndung’u, Research ICT Africa

This report investigates internet use in Kenya: why people use the internet the way they do, barriers to internet use, and the effects of free or subsidized access to the internet. Participants use the internet for varying reasons, with social media being most prominent. Some perceived that the internet is about social media, and all perceived that the internet has both positive and negative uses, leading to diverse outcomes. Barriers to internet use include cost, network connectivity, network coverage, and internet literacy. Free or subsidized internet was perceived to involve risks. In rural areas, inappropriate internet content was seen to be a challenge to internet use.

To read more, see the summary and full report.

Nigeria

Internet Use in the Presence or Absence of Subsidized Data: Nigeria Market Study

This report investigates how people in Nigeria use the internet differently when their data are and are not subsidized. Respondents did not rely on subsidized services, and thus no concrete determinations could be made. Awareness of the two prominent subsidized Facebook offerings was low. Respondents were generally satisfied with the pricing of data bundles. For non-internet users, barriers to internet adoption include cost of acquiring internet-capable devices and literacy levels. For internet users, limitations to additional internet use include network reliability, low data speeds, and high rates of data consumption. Respondents’ internet use is generally aspirational.

To read more, see the summary and full report.

Rwanda

RIA Beyond Access Study: Rwanda Report

This report discusses how people in Rwanda perceive using the internet differently when their data are and are not subsidized. People of different education levels and incomes use the internet at different rates, for different reasons. Subsidized data services in Rwanda constitute a great part of total data use, and internet use beyond subsidized data services is generally limited. Barriers to internet use include literacy in local and foreign languages, financial resources, and limited awareness of the internet.

To read more, see the summary and full report.

South Africa

Internet Use Barriers and User Strategies: South Africa Report

This report examines subsidised data use and perceptions of the internet in South Africa. Although zero rated promotions did not bring focus group respondents on the internet, these promotions do help users manage data costs. Respondents indicate that subsidised data largely does not limit the extent of their internet use. There is a general lack of awareness of Free Basics, and free services are viewed with scepticism. Cost of data is a commonly cited barrier to internet use, but other barriers are common as well, including coverage, quality of service, literacy, and access to electricity.

To read more, see the summary and full report.