Progress and Problems

Latest On Internet Affordability In Africa: Conflicting Signals

By  |  December 2, 2020

Over the years, the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) has tasked itself with keeping an eye on internet costs among consumers and industry players in various parts of the globe, with the aim of finding and implementing ways to make things better.

Every year, the A4AI unveils something called the “Affordability Report”, which represents part of the organisation’s ongoing efforts to “measure policy progress toward affordable internet.”

And this year has been no different. The 2020 Affordability Report is fresh out of the oven and, among other things, this year’s report “calls for governments to develop effective national broadband plans to make internet access more affordable and enable more people to connect.”

The 2020 report is informed by expert policy surveys conducted in 72 countries, almost all low- or middle-income, across the regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and the Caribbean.

Now, to the main gist about how African countries are faring on the subject of internet affordability: well, it’s kind of a mixed bag.

The UN Broadband Commission defines internet affordability as ‘1 for 2’ — that is, 1GB of mobile broadband costing no more than 2 percent of the average monthly income. And it appears some African nations have it better than others.

For every Rwanda where the price of 1GB as a fraction of the average monthly income has decreased from 20.16 percent to 3.39 percent between 2015 and 2019, there is a Malawi where the figure is as high as 16 percent of monthly income, or worse, a Congo where it is even higher.

Evidently, several countries still have a long way to go to reach the healthy threshold, especially among low-income countries. But it’s not all doom and gloom.

According to the report, Africa has seen the biggest broadband policy advances during the year under review.

Although Africa remains the region with the lowest average Affordability Drivers Index (ADI) score, this year the continent saw the fastest improvement (6.7 percent since 2019), with countries improving planning, better spectrum management and supporting programmes to narrow the digital gender gap.

The A4AI defines the ADI score as an assessment of how well a country’s policy, regulatory, and overall supply-side environment is working to lower industry costs and ultimately create more affordable broadband. 

It’s important to note that the ADI score does not measure actual broadband prices, nor does it tell how affordable internet is in a given country. Instead, it scores countries across two main policy groups: Infrastructure and Access. Notwithstanding, high ADI scores do correlate with reduced broadband costs on both the industry side and for consumers.

Generally, the A4AI asserts that broadband policies continue to improve in ciuntries studied. It was reported that the average ADI score across the countries studied has risen by 13.6 points, from 42 to 55.6 since 2014, with improvements most notable in low-income countries.

Also, on the whole, mobile broadband prices have fallen consistently among countries within the ADI, with the average cost of 1GB data declining by more than half since 2015, from 7.0 percent to 3.1 percent of average monthly income.

As earlier mentioned, Rwanda has seen 1GB data fall to less than a fifth of its 2015 price, from 20.2 percent to 3.39 percent of average monthly income. On average, prices in low- and middle-income countries have become more affordable, moving from 7.0 percent of average monthly income in 2015 to 3.1 percent in 2019.

The 2020 Affordability Report also showed that, among the least developed nations, six of the top 10 with the highest ADI improvement are African nations. These include Senegal, Benin, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Mali.

It was also highlighted that one standout – Ethiopia – has seen its ADI score rise from 2.31 in 2014 to 20.37 in 2020, and this may have been triggered by talks of finally liberalising its hitherto closed-out telecoms market.

The latest report paints a picture of progress in some parts and problems in others. But importantly, it reiterates that more must be done to connect the unconnected.

“An International Telecommunications Union (ITU) report this year estimates that USD 428 Bn additional investment is required over ten years to deliver high-quality broadband for the world’s remaining unconnected population. The need is most acute in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific,” the report reads in part.

Featured Image Courtesy: AA4I

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