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If there's one thing COVID-19 has taught us it's that the internet is vital. It's fair to say that the pandemic has underlined the importance of having fast and reliable online access.
Just imagine how tough it would be if the virus had spread 20 years ago, when most of us in Malta and Gozo were still using dial-up internet and waiting until 6pm because it was cheaper in the evenings. No Zoom. No Netflix. No Facebook. No YouTube. Back then, Melita was more about cable TV than internet, with channels such as BBC Prime, UK Living and Bravo.
Digital networks that deliver the internet to our homes, and the services that ride on those networks have leapt from being 'nice to have' to something that is critical to economic activity and our daily lives.
It's often associated with younger people, but a recent study suggested that the internet may also offer important mental health benefits for older adults.
Researchers found that among people aged 55 to 75, those who used the internet once or more a day during lockdown to communicate with loved ones reported lower depression and a better quality of life.
In the study, researchers from the University of Surrey surveyed 3,491 people in summer 2020, while social distancing measures were still in place across the UK
Participants were surveyed on the frequency and type of their internet usage, as well as their mental health. The results revealed that participants who reported using the internet once or more a day had much lower levels of depression symptoms, and reported higher quality of life.
In particular, those who said they used the internet to communicate with loved ones saw the most beneficial effects.
The findings are yet more evidence that the internet has transformed our lives like never before. Most people are so attached to this connected world that even a few minutes of internet disruption leads to rising stress levels and worries about missing out.
In the future, almost all of our devices, appliances and machines will probably be communicating via the internet, simplifying life and reducing our everyday chores.
However, this will be possible only if internet prices remain stable around the world. As of now, there are significant disparities in terms of internet pricing. Want to know if you are paying higher or lower than other countries? Here's a quick look at nations with the cheapest mobile internet, according to Cable.co.uk.
If you're one of the millions of people working remotely around the world or pursuing a career as a digital nomad, then internet speed and the cost of connecting is likely to be one of the most important factors in your choice of destination.
Israel has the cheapest mobile data in the world, with one gigabyte (1GB) of data costing an average of just $0.05.
Internet comparison site Cable.co.uk collected and analysed data from 6,148 mobile data plans across 221 countries and territories to identify the countries with the cheapest mobile data in the world.
The data was gathered from 8th December 2020 and 25th February 2021 and the average cost of one gigabyte (1GB) was calculated and compared to form an authoritative ranking.
Dan Howdle from Cable.co.uk added: 'At the more expensive end of the list, we have countries where often the infrastructure isn't great but also where consumption is very small. People are often buying data packages of just a few tens of megabytes at a time, making a gigabyte a relatively large and therefore expensive amount of data to buy.
Many countries in the middle of the list have good infrastructure and competitive mobile markets, and while their prices aren't among the cheapest in the world they wouldn't necessarily be considered expensive by its consumers.'
In Africa, Morocco's mobile internet is one of the cheapest. According to Cable.co.uk, Morocco ranks in 10th place, with a cost for a gigabyte of mobile data averaging at $0.88.
As for other North African states, Libya's mobile internet on average costs $0.74, while Egypt and Tunisia fall behind, ranking 55th and 59th respectively. In both countries, mobile data averages out at just above a dollar a gigabyte.
Mauritania's mobile data, which costs $5.56 a gigabyte, places the country among the most expensive countries in the world. As for the most expensive, the study notes that 'Sub-Saharan Africa is the most expensive region in the world for mobile data generally, while island nations also tend to be among the most expensive.'
As such, the five most expensive countries, in terms of the average cost of one gigabyte of mobile data, were Equatorial Guinea at $49.67, the Falkland Islands at $44.56, Saint Helena at $39.87 and Malawi with $25.46.
Worldwide, North Africa is considered the cheapest region for mobile data, compared to Sub-Saharan Africa which is the most expensive region. Equatorial Guinea has the most expensive mobile data in the world.
The Maltese Islands rank well in terms of average internet speed, according to a study by the European Data Journalism Network.
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The countries which have substantially met the EU goal of at least 30 Mbps bandwidth nationwide are Malta and the Netherlands, where 100 percent has been reached. Denmark, Sweden, Lithuania and Luxembourg are just behind.
Austria has the fastest average download speed in the EU, at 140Mbps. Malta sits 10 places behind with 98 Mbps, but that's still well ahead of Germany and Ireland.
Greece ranks at the bottom in Europe in terms of average internet speed. As Athens tries to attract more digital companies and prides itself on being an attractive overseas investment location, the findings are a reminder that Greece is still far behind the likes of Malta.
One final set of stats for you. Researchers have found that the least affordable internet is also often the worst.
According to the latest Digital Quality of Life Index by VPN provider Surfshark, Nigerians would have to work more than 33 hours at average pay to be able to afford the cheapest monthly broadband contract available in the country. That's despite the fact that Nigeria has the third worst broadband speed and fifth least reliable broadband. What a shame.
Many countries in Latin America are plagued by the same problem. The Philippines are the least affordable in Asia, requiring more than seven hours of work at average pay for a month of broadband internet, despite poor overall quality.
The Asian continent is also home to some cheap internet plans, however. A month of internet costs less than the average hourly wage in Japan, China and Nepal and just a little above it in Indonesia and Singapore. The latter is also home to the fastest broadband connection in the survey, which is also rated completely reliable.
Very affordable and reliable internet connections can also be found in Canada, Israel and many countries in Europe. Several Eastern European nations and Iran offer great affordability and stability but lack some points in the speed department. Montenegro sticks out as the country with the least affordable internet in Europe, at a price equivalent to seven hours of work.
While the high prices for poor service seem unfair, the imbalance can be explained by poor infrastructure and lower internet penetration rates in some countries translating into a higher cost for a product that is not yet fully mature.