Public access, private mobile: the interplay of shared access and the mobile Internet for teenagers in Cape Town

Internet Information technology North America

Looking at libraries, telecenters, and cybercafés, this report investigates impact in a number of areas, including communication and leisure, culture and language, education, employment and income, governance, and health.
This report revolves around a simple question: “If you have the Internet in your pocket, why do you still visit a public access venue?” The mobile Internet is no longer restricted to those who can afford US$500 handsets. It is, instead, a worldwide phenomenon, propelled both by lower-cost smartphones, and by data-enabled “feature phones” which can cost as little as US$50.
There are, of course, differences in the experience of Internet use between a simple candy bar phone and a desktop or laptop PC (Gitau, Marsden, & Donner, 2010; Goldstuck, 2010), but it is equally apparent that the mobile Internet is offering a new form of Internet access, one which promises to bring a billion or more users online (Morgan Stanley Research, 2009). The arrival of this private, accessible, but perhaps not optimal “mobile Internet” has implications for the role (and funding) of public access venues (PAVs; Kolko, Rose, & Johnson, 2007) such as libraries, telecenters, and cybercafés.
Few studies have addressed the interplay between or amongst these forms of access in a sufficiently systematic way; no one has plumbed the strategic choices made by users who are now confronted with a potential repertoire (Haddon & Vincent, 2005; Licoppe, 2004; Nardi & O’Day, 1999) of access choices. We suggest that recent assertions in the practitioner literature (e.g., Ajao, 2012; Samii, 2009) about the irrelevance of public access to PCs and the Internet in the age of the mobile are largely untested and worthy of further scrutiny. This report details results of a study in Cape Town which point to an ongoing need and role for PAVs, even among a population of mobile Internet users.

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