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Is Zero-Rated Internet Access Connecting the Unconnected?

By Wayan Vota on August 21, 2017

As the debate around zero-rated services (like Facebook’s Free Basics, Twitter Access, and Wikipedia Zero) and other emerging mobile data models continues, data around who is using these services, how, and why, has remained woefully scarce.

The study, Mobile Data Services: Exploring User Experiences & Perceived Benefits, from the Alliance for an Affordable Internet aims to fill that data gap.

It presents findings from a survey of 8,000 mobile Internet users across the eight countries covered in the series – Bangladesh, Colombia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Peru, and the Philippines. The survey was conducted between November 2015 and February 2016 and found:

Zero-rating did not bring most mobile Internet users online for the first time. Nearly nine in 10 users surveyed report having used the Internet before accessing it through a zero-rated plan. Numbers of people coming online for the first time via zero-rating were slightly higher in India (15%) and Peru (22%). About 10% of users said they had used zero-rating at least once.

Public WiFi is the primary means of connection for one in five users. Most users surveyed (51%) use a full-cost data plan as their primary means of connecting to the Internet and public WiFi was the second most common method of connection (21%), particularly in countries like Peru (40%) and the Philippines (34%). Women are also more likely to use public WiFi.

Users typically combine data plans to suit their connectivity needs. In terms of users shifting from use of a zero-rated service to a paid service, 28% of all zero-rating users no longer use a zero-rating plan and are now paying customers (i.e., they now use a full-cost or service-specific plan). In addition, 35% of all zero-rating users continue to use the zero-rated service and a paid plan. 37% continue to use only “no cost” options — that is, their zero-rated service in combination with public WiFi.

The vast majority of users (82%) prefer access to the full Internet with time or data limitations, if restrictions are imposed. Approximately half (48%) of all users said that the restriction they most preferred was a limitation on time (i.e., the free plan would be only be valid for a short time, with no restriction on the websites/apps that could be accessed), while a third of respondents said they would prefer access to all websites/apps, with a restriction on the amount of data that could be used.

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Written by
Wayan Vota is a digital development entrepreneur and the co-founder of ICTworks. He also co-founded ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, Technology Salon, JadedAid, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things.
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One Comment to “Is Zero-Rated Internet Access Connecting the Unconnected?”

  1. It’s worth pointing out that the population of this survey are all internet users. This says little about the number of people on ZR who remain unconnected!

    So the main figure are those 12% of ZR users who started using the real internet while also on a ZR subscription.

    > Approximately, 88% of people using zero-rating responded that they had used the Internet before using the zero-rated plan. This means that only 12% of zero-rating users surveyed started using the Internet with their zero-rated service.