Africa, at the tail end of internet connectivity, has the highest internet cost in the world. Only four out of ten people have access to the internet, at prices as prohibitive as 7.12% of their average monthly income.
The continent suffers from restrictive public internet access and Telco monopolies.
As a result, the populace seldom has access to social and economic benefits of the web. To bridge the chasm, Africa will need over $ 100 billion in the next ten years, $ 2.4 billion for policy alone.
A report by the UN’s Broadband Commission states that Africa can only achieve the 2030 Universal access goal if 220 million first time users join the internet by 2021. On-boarding the 220 million will double broadband connectivity.
Moreover, universal connectivity will only happen if ordinary people take advantage of broadband services by enhancing affordability and increasing awareness.
The mass investment will go into network operations and maintenance, capital expenditures on infrastructure and ICT Skills, and content. Institutions, governments, investors, and finance partners will need to combine forces and raise the sum.
Network operations will take $53 billion, whereas infrastructure will take $ 29.5 billion. Furthermore, ICT skills & content will require $ 18 billion, while policy and regulation costs need at least $2.4 billion.
Policy is key to Universal Internet Access
Investment in policy forms a basis upon which the rest of the investment finds relevance. Market conditions that favour broadband affordability will only materialize with proper regulation.
The right policies will provide incentives to set up infrastructure, as well as remove barriers of entry for new entrants.
“Governments can help with policies enabling new technologies, new business models and investment,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau in a press statement. “The right policies will, in turn, provide the private sector with the incentives to build out infrastructure and explore new technologies and applications that will drive demand.”
According to The Alliance for Affordable Internet, Competition is key to successful broadband markets. Policies that favour liberalization of markets allow for multi-operator markets, which reduce the costs of broadband data.
As such, the cost of data is significantly lower in economies with multiple operators.
“Our research estimates that 1 GB data in a monopoly mobile market could be as much as $7.33 more expensive than if it were a two-operator market,” the authors said.
Therefore, African governments must promote liberal and transparent licensing programs to fuel competition and reduce data costs.
Consequently, such policies will attract the private sector to invest in infrastructure. As a result, increased network investments will later drive affordability and, therefore, deeper penetration.