Governments tasked as $428b broadband investment gap remains
The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), has called on governments across the globe not to relent in their efforts at making Internet access available to their citizens.
The A4AI said the Internet was a lifeline in 2020, but not for everyone, therefore governments must act. The body described 2020 as the year of digital salvation and of digital deprivation. According to it, just as the world turned to the Internet to work from home, keep businesses alive, go to school online, and stay connected with loved ones, around 3.5 billion people — almost half the world — remained without Internet access.
A4AI said COVID-19 has shown the Internet is not a luxury but a lifeline, and underscored why affordable, meaningful access must be a basic human right.
“We should not have a world where a lack of Internet access prevents children from learning when schools are closed; or where students have to sit on the roofs of their parents’ home because it’s the only place they can get a mobile signal; or where deep digital inequalities undermine efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
“The pandemic gives us a historic opportunity to tackle multiple digital inequalities — cutting across gender, geography, wealth and the rural/urban divide — and to make universal internet access a reality,” it stated.
The body noted that the most pressing challenge is bringing down the cost to connect, noting that while 85 per cent of the world is now within range of a mobile network, the cost of data remains too expensive for many.
A4AI said its latest Affordability Report finds that over one billion people live in countries that don’t meet the UN’s ‘1 for 2’ affordability threshold for mobile data — 1GB for less than two per cent of average monthly income. It stressed that in today’s world, even 1GB is no longer sufficient for people to use the Internet in a meaningful way.
It noted that as leaders reassess their priorities in response to this pandemic, they must prioritise broadband as an urgent priority. A4AI recommended at least two things on their side to bring down costs. First, the solutions are quite clear, as this challenge does not require us to break new ground; it’s not like creating a vaccine.
“To make the Internet affordable and accessible to all, we need increased investment, good policy and sustained political commitment,” it stated. Secondly, A4AI observed that the world is already moving in the right direction, saying that since its first report in 2015, it has seen the cost of 1GB data drop by more than half in the countries studied. The biggest drops, according to it, occurred in places where the fewest people are online. Across Africa, prices have fallen by 60 per cent, faster than in any other region.
“Yet, the cost of 1GB data in Africa remains double the affordability threshold at over four per cent of average income. And in the least affordable countries, the average person must spend over a fifth of their income for a basic 1GB package. For those earning less than average incomes, the cost is further out of reach,” it stated.
A4A1 said to accelerate progress and get everyone an affordable, quality broadband connection, will take an additional $428 billion over the next 10 years. While this price tag may sound high, A4AI said the world spent the same amount on soda each year.
The body projected that over 10 years, with funding coming from governments, development agencies and the private sector, this figure is not only achievable, but an excellent investment.
However, investments alone are not enough. A4AI said the world also needs good government policies to ensure investment is used well. Effective national broadband plans are critical to steer a country’s broadband development and bring down costs.
“These plans make public spending more effective, encourage private sector investment, and provide greater accountability for broadband development. While most of the countries we studied have some kind of plan, the quality of these varies widely — from comprehensive strategies with clear targets and implementation targets, to a scattering of documents that add up to very little.
“It’s clear the difference that effective plans can make. Take Rwanda, a landlocked, low-income country that has seen tremendous turmoil in past decades. Overcoming great challenges, the country has brought down the cost of 1GB data to a fifth of the 2015 cost, from 20% to just 3.5% of average income.