SA’s digital quality of life below average

Read time 6min 20sec

South Africa ranks 40 out of 65 countries in the global Digital Quality of Life (DQL) study, which reveals the strengths and weaknesses of digital ecosystems around the world.

Privacy company Surfshark introduced the DQL study, which highlights gaps between people’s online experiences in various societies.

The investigation was carried out in 65 countries, covering a population of over 5.5 billion people. The research team ranked countries by the speed of Internet connectivity, its affordability, cyber security, the availability of data protection laws, e-government services, and more.

According to the report, the country with the highest DQL index score in 2019 is Australia with a 0.7992 index value, followed by France (0.7985) and Singapore (0.7854).

SA’s score is 0.5738 below the median value of the DQL index at 0.6110.

"South Africa ranks 40th in 2019 Digital Quality of Life (DQL) index which is the highest standing of all African countries covered by the research," says says Goddy Ray, DQL research lead at Surfshark.

He notes that people in SA have similar quality of digital lives as people in Latvia (39th) and Malaysia (41st).

"South Africa stands out globally in terms of affordability of broadband internet, standing in between the USA (10th) and Lithuania (12th). However, although very affordable, its broadband Internet is among the slowest globally. South Africa ranks 54th for its broadband speed while its citizens use similar level of broadband internet as in Philippines (53rd) and Nepal (55th). This indicates that country’s broadband infrastructure is underdeveloped while its high affordability suggests that investment in it is feasible."

Ray adds that SA ranks just above the median position globally for its mobile affordability (29th) which means that people in the country must work roughly the same amount of time to afford the cheapest 1GB mobile data package as people in Spain (28th) and Ukraine (30th).

"However, the speed they get for that price is much lower than people in Spain, but comparatively higher than people in Ukraine. Investments in mobile infrastructure as well as higher competition between mobile operators would improve quality of people’s digital lives in South Africa.

"Generally, South Africa ranks below the global median in the final DQL standing, therefore improvements in most of the analyzed areas would consequently add up to better digital well-being for people in South Africa. 

“Today, our lives are profoundly affected by our digital well-being, as over half of the entire population is using the Internet,” Ray says.

“We wanted to understand what matters most for people in the digital sphere and compare digital experiences around the world. This is the first attempt to estimate the quality of our digital lives, which, we expect, will provide grounds for further discussions within the indexed countries.”

One of the key global findings of the DQL study is that well-developed Internet infrastructure does not necessarily guarantee a high quality of digital life for citizens, as a composition of less tangible factors such as the country’s cyber security or presence of personal data protection laws is essential to determine digital well-being.

Room for improvement

The research concluded that none of the indexed countries crossed the threshold of 0.8000 (of 1.000), highlighting there is room for improvement in various digital areas globally.

The research team analysed open source data collected from the databases of the United Nations, the World Bank, Freedom House, the International Communications Union and other sources.

The countries were ranked combining factors such as Internet connectivity speed, affordability, cyber security, the availability of data protection laws, e-government services, and entertainment content availability.

Countries in the top 10 are Australia, France, Singapore, Norway, Japan, Canada, Denmark, South Korea, Italy and Sweden, while the bottom 10 are Algeria, Ethiopia, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, Ecuador, Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia and Morocco.

Out of the 10 countries with the lowest DQL indices, Surfshark says five are located 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).

In the scope of this research, with only a few exceptions, these countries received low scores on all indexed criteria.

Most notably, it points out, the Internet speed and affordability (both mobile and broadband) indicators, which have the biggest influence on the quality of people’s digital lives, were exceptionally low.

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. This suggests a widespread presence of traditional bureaucracy and an overall lack of institutional effectiveness. Nevertheless, the situation in these countries is not universally insufficient in the scope of the DQL.

“For example, Egypt and Thailand are above the median positions in terms of cyber security, while Indonesia is among the countries with the most affordable mobile Internet, but the entirety of all of the composite factors eventually weighs down the final results,” says Ray.

Australian charge

According to Surfshark, Australia’s high score was mainly determined by very high affordability of mobile Internet, comparatively high mobile Internet speeds, and a solid level of cyber security in the country.

However, it says the score could have been higher if not for Australia’s underdeveloped broadband infrastructure, which ranked the country in the lower end of corresponding indicators of broadband speed and affordability.

Algeria has the lowest DQL score out of 65 countries covered by this report, with an index rating of 0.1865. The country’s performance regarding all of the DQL criteria was low, says Surfshark.

It points out the final ranking was mainly impacted by low mobile and broadband Internet speeds, low affordability of mobile and broadband Internet, poor e-government development, and the second lowest score in cyber security.

Surfshark says the key findings of this research reveal a strong interconnection between a country’s wealth (in terms of GDP) and its citizens’ digital quality of life. It notes affluent economies tended to outperform other countries in the areas of cyber security, affordability and Internet speed.

“These areas generally indicate comparatively prudent legislative and executive systems, as well as more proficiently developed Internet infrastructure and its competitiveness compared to the countries ranked in the lower end of the DQL index.”

Also, the study suggests that every additional $10 000 in any given country's GDP per capita can consequently improve the digital well-being of its citizens and add up an additional 0.0300 to its DQL score.

This economic improvement would not necessarily have a short-term impact on any one specific factor, but rather a long-term spill-over effect on most of the components of the index.

“The causation between economic development and digital quality of life arguably works both ways, which means investment in Internet infrastructure, its competitiveness, and the country’s cyber security, together with a well-developed legislative basis that defines and defends the framework of one’s personal data, has positive effects on any country’s economic development.”

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