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The cost of internet access

Internet freedom: why access is becoming a human right on The Conversation makes for sobering reading. I highly encourage you to take the time to read through it all and let it sink in.

When we build sites that use lots of images or lots of CSS and (especially) JS, we cost our users money. We know that many South Africans connect to the internet using their mobile device and often only using their mobile device. Mobile data is expensive. The Conversation’s estimates a range of R85 and R105 for 500MB of data.

As of 1st June 2016, the average size of web pages was 2.5MB. That means about R0.5 for one visit to one page. If a site hasn’t implemented a good caching strategy, that means another R0.5 for each visit to that page (or to other pages that share the same resources like CSS or JS). And even if a site has a good caching strategy, files don’t stay in the cache forever: the browser bumps them out or files get updated to new version.

Here are a few data points:

  • The Mail and Guardian home page is about 11.5MB on first view. That just over R2.
  • The Daily Maverick home page is about 2.7MB. That’s about R0.5.
  • The IOL home page is around 1.8MB. That’s about R0.4.

These single digit Rand amounts might seem small, but think about how these small pieces can add up. How many sites do you visit a day? How many pages on those sites do you visit? The Conversation article points out that the average South African income is around R1,000 per month. For many South Africans, even those well above this line, the cost of visiting our sites is a material cost as a percent of their income. We have to do better, and make critical review of Front-end performance an important and necessary part of every project we work on.

What’s next?

I really like Tim Kadlec’s What does my site cost?. I’d like to put together a simplified and more localised South African version.