Internet prices: historical vs today

For fibre internet, the average South African currently pays between R600 and R900 per month. While some may consider this a chunk of change for high-speed and reliable connectivity, wait until you see what we used to pay in the early days of broadband.

In the late 1980s, Rhodes University received the country’s first IP address, ushering in the era of the internet in South Africa. Businesses could access commercial internet in 1992, but families weren’t linked to copper ADSL lines until the mid-to-late 1990s.

Fortunately, a lot has changed since then. Quality and speed are not the only noteworthy improvements from the days of dial-up and kilobyte speeds to modern fibre optics that can deliver connectivity at gigabyte speeds. Actually, internet connectivity is far less expensive than it was in the 1990s.

In South Africa, WonderNet is an internet service provider (ISP) that offers fast and affordable fibre to the home. They were recently rated in the top five ISPs for value for money and network quality. With upgrades and cancellations at any time, their fibre packages start at R599 per month.

How internet prices have changed since 2000

At the turn of the millennium, the cheapest package had a monthly cost of R1500 and a once-off setup cost of R5500 for a 9.6 kbps ADSL connection. In today’s economy, this would cost R19 250 for setup and R5250 a month on a contract. All packages without a modem included this R5500 setup fee as standard. You would have to pay R6500 to add the modem.

A 256 kbps dial-up line was the most expensive option without the modem and was advertised for R28 000. Just think about spending the equivalent of R98 000 now for a 256 kbps connection! Although it’s clear that this option was intended for businesses, it’s absurd to imagine that not long ago, the internet required a substantial financial investment.

The most popular plan was a 64 kbps midrange leased line. For R4000 per month (R14 000 per month after adjusting for inflation), it offered a 64 kbps connection for local use and a 19.2 kbps connection for international use. The speed of international internet back then was 19.2 kbps because subsea fibre cables didn’t arrive on the continent until 2009.

Affordable fibre connectivity

Due to its high cost in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the internet was really only used by businesses. It is now a necessity in both companies and households across the country. Daily tasks and entertainment would not be possible without the internet. Thankfully, the cost of this essential commodity has significantly decreased.

Competition is fierce because there are more than 200 registered ISPs in South Africa alone. This has not only reduced costs and broadened connectivity options, but it has also made it possible for more South Africans to find a package that meets their needs and connects to the rest of the world.

The significant increase in speed at a fraction of the price is primarily due to fibre optics. As more modern technologies such as 5G and the expansion of fibre networks take off on a large scale, ADSL is being phased out rapidly in South Africa.


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Written by Taryn Hill

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