A survey of Internet users across 12 countries shows that, in South Africa, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a huge increase in the use of the Internet for vital services.

Nearly seven in ten (69%) South African Internet users who were surveyed have turned to the Internet for online services during the pandemic that they never would have considered before, compared with nearly two in five (39%) people globally.

The online survey, carried out by YouGov on behalf of the Internet Society, underscores how the coronavirus pandemic has made the Internet critical to the functioning of our economies.

The Internet has scaled seamlessly during the pandemic, enabling three quarters (75%) of those surveyed in South Africa to continue working and learning, compared with just under half (48%) globally.

The Internet Society’s survey results showed that in South Africa – a country where just over half (56%) of people were online in 2017 according to the World Bank – the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a huge increase in the use of the Internet for vital services such as shopping and banking.

Four in five (80%) South African Internet users reported using the Internet for banking, nearly two thirds for accessing news and content from other countries (64%) and for watching video content (64%), and three in five (60%) for making phone calls since the start of the pandemic.

The polling results come as many governments across the world are eyeing proposals that could threaten the Internet. These include the potential removal of intermediary liability protection and other laws that could threaten innovation on the Internet.

A highly contentious debate over the repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in the US, the proposed Digital Services Act package in the European Union, the upcoming Online Harms Bill in the UK, and threats to upend Brazil’s Civil Rights Framework for the Internet are just some examples.

Dawit Bekele, vice-president of the Internet Society in Africa, says: “During the pandemic, the Internet has been a lifeline, not just for South Africans, but for billions around the world. The increasing centrality of the Internet to our lives makes it even more essential that the Internet remains global and open, so that everyone around the world can benefit from the unique capacity for innovation and adaptation that is built into the fundamental architecture of the Internet.

“Our surveys show that users care about the important properties of the Internet and are concerned about legislation that might affect these properties.”