Internet use in Sri Lanka increases due to Covid-19 pandemic

A recent national survey conducted by LIRNEasia, a regional policy think tank, showed that 44% of Sri Lanka’s population aged 15 and above were internet users in 2021. Internet use was lower amongst the rural, elderly, less educated and poorer groups. Those residing in rural areas, for example, were 19% less likely to be online than their peers residing in urban areas.

The pandemic situation has brought many online, with 31% of new users (aged 15 and above) in 2020 and 2021 citing that they came online due to a need brought about by the pandemic.

Despite the growth experienced, internet use levels in Sri Lanka this year were below that of countries such as India and Nigeria.

Sri Lanka’s sub-par performance in this regard is notable for two reasons. First, because empirical evidence shows that countries with higher per capita income often have higher internet use levels. Sri Lanka’s internet use levels were below that of countries with lower per capita income levels.

Second, because Sri Lanka has out-performed these countries in the past, but recent high growth in countries such as India — where internet use grew by 25% annually — have led to them overtaking Sri Lanka.

“Concerted efforts should be made to bring and keep those at the margins online,” Senior Research Manager, Gayani Hurulle of LIRNEasia, stated. “These include ensuring that high-quality, affordable internet is available to all, and digital skills of users are built to allow for productive, responsible and safe internet use.”

Sri Lanka offers 2GB of mobile data at 0.6% of GNI per capita, lower than any other lower-middle income country. In the same range are South Korea, Iran, and Indonesia.

The actual cost of 10 GB in Korea (the lowest package) is $ 15, more than seven times the $ 2.1 package for 2GB in Sri Lanka. Because the GNI per capita is seven times that of Sri Lanka’s $ 4,060, the affordability is considered the same. 

The report provides comparative analyses of high and low use packages, fixed data packages, bundled voice and data packages, etc. In most if not all, Sri Lanka performs well. 

One cannot use data without 3G and 4G coverage. This is not available in all localities. Coverage is the necessary condition for data use. Content is the sufficient condition.

The key driver of internet use is content. In research LIRNEasia did in India on beyond-voice services around a decade ago, we found the drivers to be ABC: Astrology, Bollywood, and Cricket. It appears that politics, especially through social media, has joined the list. The need to minimise large and small face-to-face gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate data demand. 

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