Do mobile phones replace public access computers?

Mobile phone use is soaring, especially in developing and transitioning countries. What does the dramatic increase in mobile use — and particularly mobile internet use — mean for public access venues? Do mobile phones replace public access to computers and the I=internet in venues such as libraries, cybercafes, and telecenters? If one has the internet in their pocket, why do they still use public access ICTs? As part of the Global Impact Study of Public Access to Information and Communication Technologies, researchers in South Africa set out to answer these questions and more. The full research report and research brief are now available.

TASCHA is pleased to announce the release of the Mobile Internet in-depth study research report, Public access, private mobile: The interplay of shared access and the mobile internet for Teenagers in Cape Town. Led by Marion Walton of the University of Cape Town and Jonathan Donner of Microsoft Research India, this study assesses and describes the interplay between public PC-based internet access and private mobile-based access for urban teenaged public access venue users in Cape Town. South Africa is a particularly fruitful “leading edge” environment to do this work since not only mobile use, but specifically mobile internet use, is increasingly common even among resource-constrained young people. Walton and Donner combined quantitative surveys with open-ended interviews of users and public access venue operators. Discussion is structured around five claims.


  1. Public access and private mobiles offer different affordances, and teenage users have developed complex, fine-grained practices which help them to negotiate the respective strengths and weaknesses of the affordances.
  2. The public access venue provides non-substitutable impact to resource-constrained users, even those with “the internet in their pocket.”
  3. Public access supports the development of digital literacies associated with hyperlinked media and large-format documents, while mobile access supports everyday social literacies and messaging.
  4. Teens can use a combination of mobile and public access internet resources to participate in networked media production and grassroots economic mobilization.
  5. Public access venue operators can improve venue rules and skills to encourage the complementary use of the mobile internet.


Full research report

Two-page research summary


Walton, M. & J. Donner. (2012). Public access, private mobile: The interplay of shared access and the mobile internet for teenagers in Cape Town. Global Impact Study Research Report Series. Cape Town, South Africa: University of Cape Town.


This research was conducted as part of the Global Impact Study of Public Access to Information & Communication Technologies, a five-year (2007-2012) project to generate evidence about the scale, character, and impacts of public access to information and communication technologies. Looking at libraries, telecenters, and cybercafes, the study investigates impact in a number of areas, including communication and leisure, culture and language, education, employment and income, governance, and health. The Global Impact Study is implemented by the University of Washington’s Technology & Social Change Group with support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and a grant to IDRC from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Learn more at