A study by Microsoft Research India, while investigating one question, might also suggest an answer to other questions, among them the rationality of Internet consumers, the important role played by retail tariffs and usage caps, as well as user ability to maximize overall use of all Internet access resources available in any market, in ways that maximize end user satisfaction and value.
The specific question the researchers asked was “if you have the internet in your pocket, why do you still visit a public access venue?” They studied teenager behavior in Cape Town, South Africa.
Most grade-11 teens in low-income township schools in Cape Town have used their mobiles to access the internet since 2008, the researchers note. By 2010, South Africa had over 100 percent mobile penetration (50 million subscriptions) but only 743,000 fixed broadband subscribers, they also say.
The findings were that teenagers “who could, in theory, be ‘mobile-only’ Internet users have instead constructed a ‘mobile-centric’ repertoire.” They used their more-expensive mobile access when needed for some tasks, but shifted resource-intensive operations to public access venues, including libraries and cybercafes.
Doing so saves them money and also offers a better end user experience. Mobiles are used for quick, non-intensive apps. Libraries get used for quick-turnaround search-copy-paste-print operations, when sessions are limited to 15 minutes, for example.
Internet cafes tended to be used when video editing and visual design as well as integration with handwritten and photocopied material was required.
The larger point is that Internet users, one might argue, is that people in low-income parts of Cape Town, South Africa, or in developed nations, are rational and competent judges of ways they use access services.
They shape their own usage behavior based on accurate assessments of what forms of access save them money and best match the purposes for which they are using the Internet.
Some may use Internet cafes because of the better hardware (faster PCs, better printers and peripherals), since PC hardware is expensive in South Africa, due to import duties and
lack of domestic manufacturing.
Mobile coverage is good but data tariffs are relatively expensive. Usage caps for digital subscriber line services are frequently capped with monthly limits as low as 1GB.
Wireless data is purchased in a way similar to prepaid airtime, encouraging end user attention to “running meters.”
The implications are clear enough. “Broadband policy” consists of more than building faster networks of all types. The way tariffs are structured has a powerful impact on user behavior, leading people to consume access in logical ways.
That is why Wi-Fi offload has become such a pronounced activity in many developed markets.