Minimum Data Consumption: How Much Is Needed to Support Online Activities, and Is It Affordable?
Analytical Insights | January 2021
Lacking access to information and services is considered a welfare depravation. Years ago, access was defined as having a radio or television, but today it has been updated to include an internet connection. For individuals, access to online multimedia educational, health and livelihood content has potential positive impacts on improving welfare. This begs the question: how much data is needed to support online activities? Similar to determining daily calorie requirements for food, or identifying a minimum threshold for household electric energy, the aim of this note is to present an estimate of minimum data consumption level and examine whether it is affordable for low income groups in a diverse selection of developing countries.
- The primary payment method for mobile internet usage in most developing countries is prepaid, with the amount tied to a specific volume of data usage. Data volume is therefore a useful yardstick to determine how much is needed to carry out important welfare enhancing activities online.
- For foundational online activities, which include websites for public services, health information, shopping, learning, and news, we estimate using data from six developing countries that 660MB per month, per user are needed for these welfare-enhancing activities. For common recreational online activities — particularly social media use — we estimate that an additional 5.2GB per month, per user is needed, for a total of approximately 6GB per month, per user.
- While the cheapest 30-day data packages in most of the countries examined exceed this minimum estimate, the cost of these packages exceeds more than 2% of income for the bottom 40% of the population, which risks widening the digital divide.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has further increased the demand for data by triggering widespread use of video conferencing for work, learning and health among others. This increased demand, along with the continuous development of more data-heavy content, will continue to inflate the minimum data needed for welfare enhancing activities, which may further exacerbate the digital divide if more affordable packages or other alternatives mechanisms for facilitating connectivity are not provided for the most vulnerable populations.
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