6 Hidden Impacts: Non-users

The majority of studies on public access computing venues tend to overlook non-users. Including non-users, however, gives critical insight into the reasons that prevent people from making use of public access venues. In addition, some non-users may previously have used public access venues. Understanding past use can shed light on impacts from previous use, as well as reasons why people choose to stop going. Further, non-users can provide information on indirect impacts from their friends’ and relatives’ use of public access venues. Indeed, non-users may also value public access venues, either because of the indirect impacts they receive or the direct impacts others receive. This section provides a high-level discussion of the profile of non-users, impacts of past use, and the impacts of indirect use.[1]

Profile of non-users

Unlike public access users, who were sampled at public access venues, non-users were sampled at their homes. The sample was identified through a filtering process that sought to determine whether potential respondents had ever used a public access venue, and if so, how often, and how long ago. Non-users were classified into four groups:

  1. Ex-public access user/Computer user – previously used public access venues, but has not in the past 12 months. Currently uses computers elsewhere.
  2. Ex-public access user/Computer non-user – previously used public access venues, but has not in the past 12 months. Currently does not use computers.
  3. Never-public access user/Computer user[2] has never used a public access venue; currently uses computers.
  4. Never-public access user/Computer non-user – has never used a public access venue and does not currently use computers.

For simplicity, these groups are referred to as ex-user/computer user, ex-user/computer non-user, never-user/computer user, and never-user/computer non-user.

The non-user sample was not stratified by these four categories. Out of the final sample of 2000 non-users, nearly 80% had never used a public access venue (never-users), and about 18% were ex-users. The majority were not currently using computers anywhere else (computer non-users, 58%), while 40% were computer users. Table 6.1 shows the breakdown for the four types of non-user.

Table 6.1: Distribution of non-user types, by country (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
Never-user, Computer non- User 55 63 42 35 81 52
Never-user, Computer User 26 29 31 36 11 24
Ex-user, Computer non-user 4 2 3 4 4 8
Ex-user, Computer user 15 6 24 25 4 16
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
Notes: n=1,974.Totals for some countries do not add up to 100%, as it was determined after interviews that some respondents were actually users.

This breakdown of non-user types aligns with the observations in Chapter 3 about the link between user profiles and the national level of ICT connectivity. Countries with a lower level of connectivity and a shorter history of public access venue deployment, such as Bangladesh and Ghana, show larger differences dividing public access users from non-users (as well as from the general population). Those two countries also have a high number of never-user/computer non-users and a comparatively low number of ex-users, as shown in the demographic characteristics described in the following sections. It should be emphasized that the characteristics of the non-user sample are not a reflection of the national profile of non-users in any of the survey countries; they relate only to non-users residing in communities in the vicinity of public access venues.

Demographic characteristics


Non-users varied in age, but in general they were older than users (Table 6.2). Approximately 65% of non-users were 25 years of age or older, with more than 20% above 50 years. Non-users in Bangladesh were relatively younger than in other countries: nearly 50% were younger than 25 years, compared to 35% for all countries. In Ghana and the Philippines, about 30% of non-users were younger than 25 years. In Brazil, Chile, and the Philippines, around half the non-user population was 35 and older; in Bangladesh and Ghana that percentage was substantially lower.

Table 6.2: Non-users of public access venues, by age (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
12–15 8 10 6 6 5 14
16–19 12 20 9 11 10 8
20–24 14 19 13 12 19 11
25–34 22 23 24 15 29 17
35–49 23 18 21 29 23 22
>50 21 10 27 27 14 28
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
Note: n=2,000

On average, non-users tended to be older than users (Figure 6.1). More than 65% of users but only 35% of non-users were below 25 years. Conversely, only slightly more than 10% of users but nearly 45% of non-users were over 35.

Figure 6.1: Users and non-users, by age group
Figure 6.1: Users and non-users, by age group


The survey was designed to sample an equal proportion of male and female respondents: the gender ratio is roughly 50/50 and is not representative of the actual distribution of male and female non-users in the survey countries. For the respondent selection procedure, see the survey methodology report (Survey Working Group, 2012).


Non-users tended to be less educated than users. Differences in education were most evident at the highest level (tertiary) and the lowest level (primary and below). More than 30% of users but only about 19% of non-users had completed some form of tertiary education (Table 6.3). Twenty-three percent of non-users had only completed primary education, and 6% had only completed the pre-primary level; for users, these percentages were lower, at 16% and 2%, respectively (Figure 6.2). A lower level of education, combined with a relatively older population, helps explain why non-users generally had lower perceived computer skills than users (Figure 6.3). Notably, however, in the secondary and post-secondary education levels the percentages of users and non-users were similar.

Table 6.3: Highest level of education completed by non-users (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
College or higher 19 27 13 15 7 32
Vocational or trade school 15 16 26 18 7 10
Secondary school 37 39 29 43 31 44
Primary school 23 13 25 21 42 13
Pre-primary 6 5 7 3 13 1
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
Note: n=1,956


Figure 6.2: Comparison of user and non-user levels of education
Figure 6.2: Comparison of user and non-user levels of education


Figure 6.3: Comparison of user and non-user self-reported skill levels in using computers
Figure 6.3: Comparison of user and non-user self-reported skill levels in using computers

Individual income

In general, there were more non-users above the poverty line than below.[3] There was wide variation between countries in self-reported income levels (Table 6.4). Whereas in Bangladesh only about half of non-users were above the poverty line, in Ghana a majority of non-users (60%) were above it. For Brazil and Chile, a large majority of non-users were above the poverty line (83% and 74%, respectively). In the Philippines, strikingly, only 20% of non-user respondents indicated incomes above the poverty line. (But see Figure 6.4: a similar percentage also held for the user group.)

Table 6.4: Non-users’ self-reported personal monthly income (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
Above Poverty 57 48 83 74 60 20
Below Poverty 43 52 17 26 40 80
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
Note: n=1,574.The above data do not include students since generally students are not employed.

Comparing users and non-users, overall the group of users was more likely to indicate income below the poverty line, with substantial differences between countries (Figure 6.4). In Bangladesh and Chile, the percentage of non-users below the poverty line was higher than that of users. In the Philippines there was little difference between the two groups: in both cases, around 80% indicated income below the poverty line.

Figure 6.4: Comparison of users and non-users in relation to the national poverty line
Figure 6.4: Comparison of users and non-users in relation to the national poverty line

Occupational Status

Approximately half of non-users in the sample were employed, and approximately 22% were students. There was wide variation among countries: 45% of non-users in Ghana were self-employed, but only 7% in Brazil and 17% in Bangladesh and Chile (Table 6.5). The percentage of students ranged from 16% in Ghana to 35% in Bangladesh. The higher number of student non-users in Bangladesh correlates with a relatively young age of non-users (see Table 6.2).

Table 6.5: Occupational status of non-users (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
Self-employed 22 17 7 17 45 23
Student 22 35 17 21 15 20
20 14 29 20 16 22
Homemaker 14 28 11 19 2 9
Retired 7 2 13 12 3 5
part- time
6 1 11 7 4 9
Unemployed, looking for a job 4 2 5 3 8 3
Unemployed, not looking for a job 3 1 2 .5 3 8
Other 2 0 5 .5 4 1
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
Note: n=1,964

Figure 6.5 compares the employment status of non-users to that of users. The pattern corresponds to age data: the higher proportion of young users translates into a much higher proportion of students among users (44%) than non-users (22%). The non-users who were relatively older had a much higher proportion of retired individuals and homemakers than users.

Figure 6.5: Comparison of users and non-users by employment status
Figure 6.5: Comparison of users and non-users by employment status

Availability of technology in the home

Non-users had mixed access to other forms of information and communication technologies. Forty-seven percent of individuals indicated that they had a computer at home, with 32% indicating they had a computer with internet access (Table 6.6). These figures vary by country. In Chile, 70% of non-users indicated they had a computer at home, compared to only 26% in Ghana. Overall, non-user levels were generally similar to users for all technologies (Figure 6.6).

Table 6.6: Technology availability in non-user households (%)
Technology All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
Computer 47 35 58 70 26 46
Computer w/internet connection 32 19 52 50 6 34
TV 96 95 99 99 91 97
Radio 77 32 91 98 89 75
MobilePhone 94 98 90 93 95 94
Note: n=2,000
Figure 6.6: Comparison of user and non-user technology in the home
Figure 6.6: Comparison of user and non-user technology in the home

Reasons for non-use

Non-users were asked to name the two main reasons they do not use a public access venue. The most common reasons were that they did not know how to use computers or they had computer access elsewhere (Table 6.7). Only small proportions cited inconvenience, no venues in area, or access to mobile internet as reasons for not using public access venues.

Table 6.7: Reason for not using public access (%)
I do not know how to use computers 65
No need, I have a computer at home/work 53
No need, I have nothing to do on computers 52
I do not have time to visit public access venues 39
Do not feel comfortable using computers in public 13
Services are not affordable 11
Venues are not conveniently located 5
Hours of operation are not convenient 5
No need, use internet on a mobile phone 4
No venues in the area 2
Note: n=1,926.

Since non-users were asked for their top two reasons, it is worth examining how the two reasons congregate. The three most common pairs of reasons were:

  1. “I do not know how” paired with “I have no need because I have nothing to do on computers” (25%). The group of non-users giving these responses are computer/internet non-users, as well as non-users of public access.
  2. “I do not have the time to visit public access venues” and “I have no need because I have a computer at home or work” (16%). This group represents computer/internet users who do not use public access.
  3. “I do not have the time to visit public access venues” and “I do not know how to use computers” (9%). This group is similar to Group 1. Together they constitute a third of non-users (34%).

Group 1 and Group 3 do not use public access venues because they simply do not use that kind of technology. Group 2 does not use public access because they have access either at home or at work, eliminating their need for a public access venue.

Other questions give additional insight into these three classes of non-users. In answer to the question, “Do you currently use a computer?” 409 out of 410 in Group 1 answered “No,” as did all 144 of Group 3, while all 257 in Group 2 said “Yes.” Group 3, while similar to Group 1, indicated more interest in using computers and therefore may access a public access venue in the future: 32% of this group expected to start using computers soon, compared to 15% of Group 1.

It can be concluded that people’s non-use of public access is rooted more in their personal situation (e.g., already have access, do not have the skills) than in negative attitudes toward public access venues. Also worth highlighting is the limited relevance of mobile phones as a factor contributing to non-use of public access computers.

Impacts of past use on digital inclusion

The data show that for one subset of non-users — former public access users (18% of non-users) — public access venues have in many cases been a critical resource in the past, providing access to information technology and information resources and contributing to their development of ICT skills. This section discusses the digital inclusion impacts on this group of non-users.[4]

Technology access

Overall, most non-users first used computers and the internet either at home or at school (over 50% for the two venues combined). The group of former users, however, were more likely to have first used computers at a public access venue than at home (Table 6.8). They were also more likely to have first used the internet at a public access venue, than either at home or at school (Table 6.9).

Table 6.8: Venue of first use of computers: non-users (%)
Ex-users Never-users All
School 30 23 25
Public access venue 28 11
Home (personal or family computer) 17 41 32
Friend/neighbor/relative’s house 13 15 14
Work 8 18 14
Some other place 4 5 4
Total 100 100 100
Note: n=1,047
Table 6.9: Venue of first use of the internet: non-users (%)
Ex-users Never-users All
Public access venue 35 14
School 29 19 22
Home (personal or family computer) 13 47 34
Friend/neighbor/relative’s house 12 13 13
Work 7 15 12
Some other place 4 6 5
Total 100 100 100
Note: n=842

Public access venues were most often mentioned by those former users who were no longer using computers (ex-user/computer non-users): 47% of this group first used computers and 46% first used the internet at public access venues. For ex-users who were still using computers, the percentages were slightly lower: 32% for first use of the internet, and 24% for first use of a computer.

Information access

Out of 372 ex-users surveyed, 109 (29%) indicated that they had used a public access venue for information searches, mainly related to education (38%) and employment (20%) (Table 6.10). This compares to the pattern among users (see Chapter 4): 47% had come to the venue to look for information, with education, entertainment, and employment information topping the list.

Table 6.10: Types of information searched for at a public access venue: ex-users (%)
Type of information Percent
Education 38
Job/employment 20
News 6
Health 4
Cultural 3
Government services 1
Other 5
Note: n=109

Development of ICT skills

For non-users overall, non-public access venues — such as the home, school, and workplace — were the primary locations for developing computer and internet skills (Table 6.11). However, former public access users, particularly ex-user/computer non-users, considered public access venues to have been more important than other locations for development of their computer (40%) and internet (42%) skills. This stands in contrast to ex-user/computer users: only 9% considered public access to have played the most important role in computer skill development, and none identified it as relevant for developing their internet skills.

Table 6.11: Most important venue for development of computer and internet skills (%)
All Non-users Ex-user/Computer non-users
Computer skills Internet skills Computer skills Internet skills
n=1,039 n=794 n=83 n=60
Home 50 53 8 9
School 18 15 23 20
Work 14 14 13 14
Friend’s house 9 11 13 9
Public access venue 6 4 40 42
Other place 3 3 3 6
Total 100 100 100 100

Impacts of indirect use

Digital inclusion

Some digital inclusion benefits of technology and information access were evident for non-users through indirect access. The study did not explore indirect impacts on development of ICT skills.

Technology access through proxies

Between 10% and 23% of public access venue users reported having used a venue on another person’s behalf. (The range reflects variation according to the domain of activity — Education, Governance, Health, etc.) This discussion refers to these users as “proxies”). Even though, in some cases, proxies may have been acting on behalf of other users rather than non-users, this finding points to the potential reach of public access facilities beyond those having direct physical access.

Similarly, approximately 10% (192) of non-users in the survey had asked someone to use a public access venue on their behalf — i.e., act as a proxy — during the last 12 months. The need for internet access appeared to be the motivating factor: non-users who did not have internet access at home were more likely to have asked someone else to serve as a proxy (Table 6.12). Whether a non-user was a computer user, or had access to a computer, had no effect on this percentage.

Table 6.12: Relationship between household internet connection and indirect public access use (%)
Use of Proxy Household internet connection
No Yes
No 88 93
Yes 12 7
Total 100 100
Note: n=1,882.Chi-squared = 7.733; df = 2; P-value = 0.02093.

Non-users had a range of reasons for asking another person to use a venue on their behalf, including: emailing family and friends; sending documents; word processing; and searches for information (Table 6.13).

Table 6.13: Types of tasks requested via proxy at a public access venue (%)
Task Percent
Email family/friends 24
Submit document 14
Word processing and related 22
Information search 55
Other activities 14
Note: n=192

Information Access through proxies

Non-users benefited from information availability at public access venues: of the 10% who had accessed a venue through a proxy, 55% had asked for help with an information search, mainly education or employment related (Table 6.14).

Table 6.14: Types of information searches requested via proxy at a public access venue (%)
Type of Information Percent
Education-related 34
Job/Employment-related 14
Health-related 8
Government services 6
Culture-related 3
News 2
Note: n=192

Social and economic impacts

Of those non-users who had family and friends who used public access, 68% reported positive impacts in one or more of the 13 impact categories. The trends were somewhat similar to the impacts perceived by users: the highest percentage of positive impacts were in the categories of maintaining communication with family & friends (63%), education (51%), and meeting new people (45%); the lowest percentages were in financial savings (27%) and income (23%). (See Table 6.15.) This section examines those results in detail.

Table 6.15: Non-user perceptions of positive public access impacts (%)
Impact Category Positive Impact
Maintaining communication with family & friends 63
Education 51
Meeting new people 45
Pursuing other leisure activities 40
Pursuing interests & hobbies 40
Time savings 39
Health 39
Access to employability resources 35
Access to government information & services 32
Local language & cultural activities 29
Sending or receiving remittances 28
Financial savings 27
Income 23
Note: n=976

Non-user sub-groups

Non-users are by no means a homogeneous group. The study compared sub-groupings of the non-user population on two variables. 1) Those who had some access to computers were compared with those who had no access (i.e., computer users vs. computer non-users). 2) Those who had used proxies to perform tasks at public access venues were compared with those who had not (i.e., proxy users vs. proxy non-users).

Computer users versus computer non-users

About 40% of the non-user sample had alternative access to computers, either at home or at work. It would be reasonable to expect that fewer computer users would perceive positive (indirect) impacts from public access venues, since they have alternative access to computers. However, the reverse was true: Computer users were more likely than computer non-users to perceive positive indirect impacts. Relative to non-users overall, greater percentages of computer users reported positive indirect impacts of public access in every category of impact (Figure 6.7). The categories that showed the greatest variation between Computer users and Computer non-users were: pursuing leisure activities, pursuing other interests & hobbies, maintaining communication with family & friends, and education.

It is not clear why having other means of accessing computers would increase perceptions of positive indirect impacts from public access venues. Possibly, a greater familiarity with technology makes computer users more likely to recognize the potential benefits of access to ICTs. Additionally, they may appreciate the fact that their family and friends have use of public access venues, making it easier for them to communicate with those individuals and thus creating indirect impacts in areas like pursuing leisure activities and communication with family & friends. In other words, non-users might appreciate public access venues because they facilitate their connectivity with others who do not have alternative options for computer or internet use.

Figure 6.7: Impacts of public access venues on non-users, grouped by computer use
Figure 6.7: Impacts of public access venues on non-users, grouped by computer use
Using a proxy versus not using a proxy

A proxy user is anyone who has friends or family members use a public access venue on their behalf. Ten percent of the non-user sample were in this category. When compared to those who did not use proxies, a greater proportion of proxy users reported positive indirect impacts, in all impact categories (Figure 6.8). The greatest difference was in the category education (19% difference), and the least difference was in access to government information & services and employability resources (8% difference). This finding suggests that the more deliberate the attempt to access a service at a public access venue, the more likely it is to show perceived impacts.

Figure 6.8: Impacts of public access venues perceived by non-users, grouped by proxy use
Figure 6.8: Impacts of public access venues perceived by non-users, grouped by proxy use

Comparing types of impact

To get a better idea of the relative importance of indirect impacts, the study compared three measures of positive perceived impact, derived from the user and non-user surveys:

  1. Direct impacts of public access as reported by users of public access venues (from the user survey).
  2. Indirect impact of public access as reported by non-users (from the non-user survey).
  3. Direct impact of non-public access to sources of information and communication (e.g., home or office computer, radio, newspapers, or professional contacts), as stated by non-users (from the non-user survey).

In various combinations, these three types of impacts offer different perspectives on the indirect impacts of public access. These perspectives were explored as possible explanations for the pattern of responses from non-users:

The direct impacts and indirect impacts of public access both relate to public access resources, but from the perspective of different populations (users and non-users).

The impacts of non-public access information sources and the indirect impact of public access venues both relate to the non-user population, but show the impacts of different resources (public access and non-public access).

The impacts of public access venues on users and of non-public access information sources on non-users both represent direct impacts.

The study examined all three types of impacts across the 13 categories of impact, in order to determine which factor or factors may have the most influence on a particular category.

Of the three types of impact, by far the most frequently reported positive impacts were direct impacts reported by the actual users of public access venues (impact type 1). (See Figure 6.9.) In a few areas (health, local language and culture, and resources for employment), the dominant impact was from non-users’ direct access to non-public sources (impact type 3). For sending and receiving money, the dominant result was direct impact of public access on non-users (impact type 2), closely followed by impact type 3. Overall, impact type 3, the direct impacts of non-public access information sources on non-users, was second in preponderance, and impact type 2, indirect impacts of public access on non-users, showed the lowest incidence.

Figure 6.9: Rate of positive impacts, by type of impact and information source
Figure 6.9: Rate of positive impacts, by type of impact and information source

In summary, direct access to whatever kind of information and communication resources seems more likely to elicit positive impact perceptions than indirect access. But while direct access may be more impactful, the frequency of responses citing indirect impacts of public access was impressive, ranging from 27% of (non-user) respondents to 68% (Figure 6.9). The resources provided by libraries, telecenters, and cybercafés clearly have a substantial reach, even beyond their physical facilities. This hidden impact should be factored into assessments of the returns on public access investments.

The health category stood alone as a case in which the positive impacts of public access appear virtually identical for users and non-users (38% and 39% respectively), while the level for non-public access information sources was much higher (50%). This could be a reflection of a lack of adequate online health resources, as well as people’s preference for more private contexts for dealing with health-related interests and concerns.


There is no question that public access has impacts that reach beyond those who are directly using public access venues at any point in time. Former users consistently rated public access as having played an important role in their introduction to and development of skills in computer and internet use. A subset of public access non-users indirectly made use of public access, by asking a user to perform some activity on their behalf (proxy usage). More than one-third of non-users reported positive impacts in their lives from their friends and family having public ICT access, depending on factors such as proxy usage and whether respondents have alternative access to computers.

Further research is needed to fully understand the dynamics of public access impacts on non-users. A three-way comparison of reported impacts — the indirect impacts of public access venues on non-users, the direct impacts of public access venues on users, and the direct impacts of other information sources on non-users — can be further analyzed in terms of factors such as population, type of impact, and information source. Overall, it is clear that direct access to information and communication resources (whether through public access venues or some other avenue) is more likely to have positive impacts than indirect access. Nevertheless, the reports of indirect impacts of public access were quite substantial and constitute an important element of the impacts that public access venues deliver. Together with the significant influence of past use on many non-users, this hidden aspect should be incorporated into assessments of public access impacts.

  1. The analysis of non-users presented in this chapter focuses on public access non-users as a group, without breakdown by non-user type. However, the survey was designed to support such an analysis; more detailed analyses, such as comparing non-computer users to public access computer users, can be carried out in the future.
  2. Note that “never-users” also include respondents who have used a public access venue just once or twice. Such a small number of visits does not indicate a level of continued usage: using a public access venue once does not make someone a “user.”
  3. Note that this discussion is based on personal monthly income, as reported by respondents. Poverty lines are based on official classifications in each country.
  4. Ex-public access users were not asked about the socioeconomic impacts of their own past use, which are not discussed here. Indirect impacts from proxy use are discussed below, in the section on social and economic impacts.


Connecting people for development: Why public access ICTs matter Copyright © 2013 by Technology & Social Change Group, University of Washington Information School. All Rights Reserved.


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