Over 300 Million Users with Access to Free Mobile Internet During Pandemic, Report

March 27, 2021

A total of 314 million mobile users across eight developing countries benefited from free internet access during the hardest months of the pandemic, despite having run out of credit or not being physically able to top up. Free access to news, weather reports, healthcare, educational resources, government services and various online sources of information were provided via Upstream and its ad-funded internet portal, Zero-D.

In Africa more than 103 million users throughout South Africa, Ghana, Tunisia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo had access to the platform, which, as well as helping to bridge the digital gap, also aims to increase operators’ level of engagement with users while providing more convenient ways for them to purchase data. More than 147 million users in Brazil and a further 63 million in parts of Asia such as Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates also benefited from free internet access via Upstream’s service.

In total, Upstream provided more than 3.4 petabytes of data to communities in developing markets during the first year of the global crisis, when physical mobile phone top-ups had been difficult to access, much less afford. That’s equivalent to 41 million hours of regular internet browsing or 6.9 million hours of video streaming

Upstream, has now deployed the free mobile internet portal with over 10 operators across Brazil and parts of Africa and Asia. In developing markets, a lack of fixed-line infrastructure combined with comparatively high mobile data costs often leaves users digitally stranded.

Upstream has managed to provide a solution to this problem and keep communities connected without increasing the burden on operators. In fact, mobile operators that deploy the Zero-D platform are far more likely to increase engagement with customers in developing regions, providing them with a welcome opportunity to top-up their data digitally instead of resorting to a physical purchase. More than 95 percent of mobile users in Kenya said they believed their mobile operator “cared more” for them after deploying Zero-D.

“Free internet access has an essential role to play in bridging the digital divide. Last year was one of the most challenging years on record, made more challenging for those who found themselves digitally stranded and unable to interact with basic online services due to not being able to access or afford a top-up. Through the Zero-D portal, we’ve established a way for mobile operators to provide an essential free service to their communities whilst also increasing engagement and providing new opportunities for users to top-up digitally if they choose to do so.” Upstream Deputy CEO, Kostas Ktanis, said.

When asked about the role free internet should play, he said: “Nobody should be without internet access in 2021. Like water or energy, it’s a utility, and a vital tool for interacting with the world and keeping in touch with friends and loved ones, particularly during trying times such as these.”

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