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Internet.org

Pricey Data Is A Barrier To Internet Access In Developing Countries

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Tech companies, including Microsoft, Facebook, and Nokia, are counting on the “next billion,” or users in developing countries who are just getting access to the Internet, to fuel their future growth. Despite increasing access to technology, including the rapidly growing penetration of inexpensive mobile devices, there are still several major obstacles to Internet access, especially the high cost of data, says a new report from Internet.org and browser maker Opera Software.

A non-profit organization, Internet.org‘s mission is to increase online access in developing countries. Of course, that also benefits its co-founders, including Facebook, Opera Software, Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, and Qualcomm, as they hope people in those markets will eventually become their customers.

Internet.org’s report was prepared using data gathered by Opera Software in the eight years since its Opera Mini mobile browser launched.

Mobile browsers are important because many people in developing countries first access the Internet through mobile devices, bypassing desktop PCs, and mobile penetration is growing especially fast in places like Southeast Asia and Africa.

In many developing countries, however, the amount consumers spend on mobile data is still prohibitively high, especially compared to their counterparts in developed countries. According to Internet.org and Opera’s report, “consumers in developing markets spend 12 times the percentage of their per capita GDP as consumers in the United Kingdom or United States.”

As a result, consumers in developed and emerging marketplaces differ widely in how they chose to pay for Internet access. In Southeast Asia, more than 90% of users are on prepaid plans, according to the report. These require either a per-megabyte payment or the purchase of a preset package. In developed markets like the U.K. and the U.S., however, users prefer post-paid plans.

It’s important to also note that as people in emerging markets begin to spend more time on their mobiles, the high cost of data can be detrimental for app developers, or at least force them to figure out new ways to package their apps. For example, game developers in China have to shrink and compress game packages, often down to as little as 1MB, which means sacrificing certain features and HD graphics.