Forty-one percent of South Africans use the internet, placing the country 5th in Africa and 92nd worldwide for individual internet usage, and above the world average of 35.7%, according to the 2013 State of Broadband Report released by the UN Broadband Commission on the weekend.
The report finds that just over a quarter (25.5%) of South African households have internet access, placing the country 5th in Africa and 44th among developing countries for household internet access, and just above the 24% average for the 128 developing countries measured in the report.
When it comes to fixed broadband penetration, the report ranks South Africa 111th worldwide, with 2.2 out of every 100 people enjoying fixed broadband subscriptions - well below the global average of 9.1.
However, for mobile broadband - which allows people to access the web via smartphones, tablets and wifi-connected laptops - South Africa ranks 62nd worldwide, with a connection rate of 26 out of every 100 people compared to the global average of 22.
According to the report, mobile broadband subscriptions are growing at a rate of 30% per year, and by the end of 2013 there will be more than three times as many mobile broadband as there are fixed broadband connections.
"The new analysis in this year's report shows progress in broadband availability, but we must not lose sight of those who are being left behind," UN Broadband Commission co-vice chair Hamadoun Toure said in a statement. "While more and more people are coming online, over 90% of people in the world's 49 least developed countries remain totally unconnected.
"Internet - and particularly broadband internet - has become a key tool for social and economic development, and needs to be prioritized, even in the world's poorest nations," Toure said. "Technology combined with relevant content and services can help us bridge urgent development gaps in areas like health, education, environmental management and gender empowerment."
The Republic of Korea continues to have the world's highest household broadband penetration at over 97%, according to the report, while Switzerland leads the world in fixed broadband subscriptions per capita, at over 40%.
By comparison, the US ranks 24th in terms of household broadband penetration, and 20th in the world for fixed broadband subscriptions per capita, just behind Finland and ahead of Japan.
In terms of internet use, there are now more than 70 countries where over 50% of the population is online. The top 10 countries for internet use are all located in Europe, with the exception of New Zealand (8th) and Qatar (10th).
Ugandan President Paul Kagame, the co-chair of the commission, said that the way forward "should be to unleash the smart use of broadband to enhance delivery of services in education, health care, banking and other sectors. Broadband should also empower young people in the developing world to innovate and be more competitive globally".
The Broadband Commission for Digital Development was set up jointly by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) in 2010.