According to a post by Ami, Sri Lanka has hit 11.8% internet penetration by December 2011, with an estimated 2.5 million Internet users. While the data correspond to International Telecommunications Union (ITU) data, Sri Lanka hit double digit internet penetration by December 2010 according to ITU, rather than December 2011 as mentioned by the author. Therefore, by now, the number of Internet users should be even higher.
While the actual data on the number of Internet users in Sri Lanka shows a significant increase in the last few years according to ITU data, it is useful to understand the methodologies behind the numbers. The ITU, which is the basis of Amis’ article, recommends the use of demand side data (i.e. data obtained from representative sample surveys of the population) to measure the number of internet users. But user surveys are costly and difficult to organize.
When survey data is not available, the current method for estimating the number of Internet users is to take the number of internet subscriptions (as reported by the country’s operators, or by the country’s telecom regulator) and multiply that by a number/ multiplier. This is because each internet subscription is assumed to be used by more than one person: so the multiplier accounts for people who use Public Internet Access Points (PIAPs) or people who use the Internet at their work places, schools or other public locations.
As at 2010 there were 298,100 fixed Internet subscriptions and 2.503 million Internet users in Sri Lanka according to the ITU, with an Internet penetration rate of 12%. But according to the 2009 Household ICT Literacy Survey conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics, Sri Lanka had an “Internet using household population (aged 5 – 69)” of 13.1%. It is estimated that there were 17.7 million people aged 5-69 in Sri Lanka according to UN Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs. In that case there were 2.3 million internet users in Sri Lanka in 2009.
The Telecommunication Regulatory Commission Sri Lanka (TRCSL) website gives 280,000 as the number of “Internet and email subscribers – fixed” as at Dec 2010, a rather mysterious and undefined indicator that does not seem to have international comparators. Though ITU recommends use of demand side survey data, they do not seem to be taking the data of the 2009 ICT literacy survey into account, nor do they seem to be using the TRCSL data, so where ITU obtains its figures of 298,100 or 2.503 million is unclear.
LIRNEasia conducted a research to understand the relationship between the multiplier used to calculate the number of Internet users from the number of subscriptions and GNI per capita income ranking. We found that a reverse correlation exists – that is, higher the GNI ranking, lower the multiplier. In other words in countries with a high GNI ranking, fewer people share their Internet subscription and therefore the multiplier is expected to be closer to one, while in countries with a low GNI ranking more people use public Internet access points and share any other given connection, which would give a higher multiplier. We recommended to the ITU the use of this correlation to estimate the number of Internet users, instead of the current arbitrary method/multiplier. Using our method, with ITUs 298,100 Internet subscriptions as the base we get 2.17 million users.
Indi had estimated 2 million users in Sri Lanka in a previous post. While this is closer to the calculation of number of Internet users from our methodology, here too there maybe some issues with the data used to arrive at the estimation as the different sources of data such as ITU and TRCSL give different figures. Considering these different estimates, it seems very probable that the number of Internet users in Sri Lanka should be between 2 – 2.5 million, but due to the inaccuracy of the available data in Sri Lanka it is not possible to narrow it down further. The only way to be certain is through regular demand side surveys and by ensuring that all official figures are consistent with each other.