Kenyans Feel the Pinch of Losing Free Data

by Business Watch Team

More than 13 million Kenyans are no longer enjoying the free data from the popular web browser company, Opera through the widely used Opera Mini app. Locals often relied on Opera Mini for internet access, with the browser offering up to 90% data savings. One of Opera’s commitments to the market was its highly popular Free Data campaigns available to users of the Opera Mini browser.

Through this campaign, users enjoyed up to 1.5GB of data a month for free, which would also last ten times longer than on any other major browser thanks to its unique data-saving functionality. Over 2023 alone, the company has provided over 4 million GB of data for free as a part of these campaigns, the equivalent of 1.6 billion KES. The campaigns have been available to users since 2020. This free data came as a huge relief to millions of Kenyans and households who used it to browse and have access to various sites including government services on platforms such as E-citizen.

Opera Mini is famous for its efficiency in data usage, appealing significantly to Kenyan users since data costs in the country are prohibitively high. It claims to be the most downloaded browser, with over 13 million users in Kenya. According to StatCounter, Opera had almost 50% of the mobile market share in February 2024, splitting the market with Chrome.

The free data campaigns also played a pivotal role in catalyzing digital inclusion among Kenyans, reaching millions of Kenyans residing within both the urban and rural areas who had for a long time been cut off from the internet due to the high and sometimes unbearable prices of purchasing data bundles. It was a deal that came as a blessing to many.

Then in April, this year, the data stopped coming, leaving more than 13 million without free internet access. This was a huge blow to millions of users who were accustomed to taking advantage of the free data to browse and transact daily. Will they ever get the data back?

“With the current economy, the Opera Mini free data was a savior. It helped me stay on WhatsApp to chat with my colleagues, friends, and family. It came in handy especially when I was broke. When the data stopped coming, I thought my Opera Mini app had a problem. I uninstalled and reinstalled it but until today I don’t know what happened,” said Jackline Muena, a resident of Mathare, Nairobi.

“I am a content creator. Well, we look rich on the outside but in the background, the Opera Mini free data was helping me and my fellow content creators. Sometimes I would be in the middle of uploading content and then run out of data. The 50MBs from Opera would then come in as a boost to help me upload my content. I am feeling the pinch of losing the free data,” said Farah Ahmed, from Mombasa.

“Man, free data was discontinued? No wonder I haven’t been getting the data. What happened? I thought maybe my phone had a problem. So, I am not alone? I need those bundles back man! Tunaumia!” said Ambros Kipkemboi, a resident of Langas, Eldoret.

It now appears that Feature Phone users have been even more adversely affected by the ruling, with unconfirmed sources suggesting that over 2 million Kenyans among the 6 million Opera Mini Feature Phones users have lost internet access since Opera stopped its Free Data program. The Free Data campaigns are the only way to get online for many of Opera’s Mini’s 6 million Feature Phone users, meaning that a significant number of Kenyans have lost their main lifeline to the internet – including access to their online jobs, the opportunity to connect with family or look for educational content, news and information.

The majority of those we spoke to are calling on the service providers and key stakeholders, including the Ministry of ICT to see to it that the free data campaigns are reinstated for Kenyans to continue enjoying the online space as they did in the recent past.

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