Sometime in October 2019, Nigeria’s Communications Minister, Dr. Isa Pantami, directed the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to compel telecommunications service providers to reduce the prices of data being offered subscribers.
Personal Assistant to the Minister on New Media, Yusuf Abubakar, who disclosed the development on Sunday, October 20th, said the Minister was “worried that Nigerians were paying so much for data without enjoying value for money spent.”
As would be expected, the Minister was lauded for looking into a matter that has become a cause for concern for the average Nigerian. A common complaint among internet subscribers in Nigeria is that the price of mobile data, especially, is way higher than it should be.
And that goes without mentioning the bickerings about telcos basically ripping subscribers off by wiping out data bundles in a manner that doesn’t quite reflect usage. This one’s a matter for another day. Today’s focus borders around just how expensive mobile data is in Nigeria.
The calls for slashed mobile data prices somewhat died down a few weeks after the Minister’s appeal, until quite recently when the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread in Africa.
As people are forced to stay at home while waiting for the worst to pass, telcos in Nigeria and indeed the rest of Africa are being urged to trim down their internet rates as a way of offsetting the economic burden and also helping people stay connected at a critical time.
During this isolation period when mass majority of the country stays at home, telecom companies should slash data prices- because people need internet to stay informed and aware about the virus.
Nigerian telecom companies,
Please #CutDataPrices 🙏🏿
RT this. Let’s make it viral.
— #OurFavOnlineDoc 🛂 (@DrOlufunmilayo) March 29, 2020
Well, the recent wave of calls for a slash in mobile data prices hasn’t yielded much fruit as no changes have been recorded since.
In any case, we decided to dig into whether mobile data is really expensive in Nigeria compared to other markets. And here’s what we found.
A 30-day subscription for 1GB broadband mobile data typically costs around NGN 1 K (USD 2.76) at the moment.
In early 2019, a study conducted by UK-based broadband research firm, Cable, measured forty-five (45) 1GB data plans in Nigeria and pegged the average price of 1GB of mobile data in Nigeria at USD 2.22.
The study also found that the cheapest 1GB mobile data cost USD 0.26 and the most expensive was USD 13.79. Nigeria ranked 44th in terms of Global Mobile Data Price.
That is to say, only 43 countries have cheaper mobile data than Nigeria. That’s neither a ringing endorsement nor a scathing indictment, but it can’t be ignored that there was a total of 230 countries on that list put together by Cable.
On Tuesday, October 22, word got out about the research carried out by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI). The AA4I assessed 136 low and middle-income countries for its annual Affordability Report.
One of the key findings was that consumers in African countries are paying some of the highest rates in the world for internet access as a proportion of income.
But contrary to what one might expect, the earlier research by Cable points to the fact that 10 out of the top 50 cheapest countries in the world for mobile data are actually in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Nigeria is one of them. This is in stark contrast to the cost of broadband on the continent, which is almost universally very high or non-existent.
Rwanda and Sudan feature in the top ten globally, with 1GB of data costing an average of USD 0.56 and USD 0.68, respectively. As earlier mentioned, Nigeria places 44th on that list with USD 2.22 being the average cost of 1GB of mobile data on a 30-day plan.
On the African continent, however, Nigeria doesn’t get into the top ten.
Interestingly, the data from Cable showed that Sub-Saharan Africa also lays claim to the most expensive nation in the world for mobile data: Zimbabwe; whose average cost for 1GB of mobile data is an eye-watering USD 75.20, while its most expensive gigabyte is an even more shocking USD 138.46.
To put Nigeria’s position into perspective, Kenya, ranks 54th in the world, with data prices averaging at USD 2.73 for 1GB of data. South Africa is ranked 143rd globally with mobile data costing USD 7.17 per GB. This is not to say Nigeria’s data prices are okay, but it’s just a reminder that it could be worse.
However, Nigeria’s subscriber base of over 170 million should certainly give it an edge over comparatively smaller markets like South Africa and Kenya.
And perhaps, Africa’s most populous nation should even place better than all the countries in the African top 10 with respect to mobile data affordability because of the sheer size of its market.
This is probably where some justification can be found for the argument that mobile data prices should be cheaper than they are in Nigeria currently.
India, for example, has a population of 566 million internet users as of 2018, and it also boasts the world’s cheapest mobile data rates at an average cost of USD 0.26 per GB of mobile data.
In India, the cheapest mobile data rates are offered by Jio. When Jio came into the market, the company’s strategy was to offer the most affordable 4G services and they did. This strategy has earned the company over 280 million subscribers, making it the largest telco in India.
Now, wouldn’t it be nice for a telco in Nigeria to borrow a leaf from that playbook? Of course, it would. But it’s highly unlikely that this would happen anytime soon given that the competition in Nigeria, as opposed to India, is not that stiff.
Nigerian telcos are, at best, matching each other’s pace at the moment. None of the telcos have really taken the initiative to seize things by the scruff of the neck. And, of course, the financial and infrastructural backing that would have to accompany a “Jio-like” play in Nigeria at this time is no small matter.
The A4AI defines affordability as 1GB of mobile broadband data costing no more than 2 percent of average monthly income.
For Nigeria, that figure currently stands at 1.7 percent, which suggests that data prices in Nigeria are actually more affordable than most people care to admit.
From the A4AI’s findings, the average across the African continent is 7.12 percent. Also, citizens of Chad, DR Congo, and the Central African Republic must all pay more than 20 percent of average monthly earnings for 1GB of mobile broadband data. Those ones have it worst.
So, to answer the question: is mobile data insanely expensive in Nigeria? Well, not quite. But can it be cheaper? Absolutely!
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