Africans Charged More Than 3.5 Times the “Affordable” Rate for Mobile Data

People living in Africa are charged an average of 7.1 per cent of their monthly salary for a gigabyte (GB) of mobile data, more than 3.5 times the threshold considered affordable

Zimbabwean smallholder farmer relies on weather information via his mobile phone to aid his cropping activities. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Gareth Willmer
Nov 4 2019 – People living in Africa are charged an average of 7.1 per cent of their monthly salary for a gigabyte (GB) of mobile data, more than 3.5 times the threshold considered affordable.

That’s according to a report by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), which classifies the affordable rate as 2 per cent of monthly income. It finds that progress towards competition is stalling across low- and middle-income countries amid consolidation between mobile and internet operators.

The trend threatens to jeopardise the push towards affordable internet access for all, with half the world’s population still unable to connect. Even though the 50 per cent mark was reached at the end of last year, that’s still far short of the UN’s goal of universal access.

The trend threatens to jeopardise the push towards affordable internet access for all, with half the world’s population still unable to connect. Even though the 50 per cent mark was reached at the end of last year, that’s still far short of the UN’s goal of universal access

The 2019 Affordability Report, published on 22 October, estimates that people in countries with low levels of mobile and internet competition pay about US$3.42 per gigabyte (GB) of data more than those in competitive ones. This premium, says A4AI, is “unaffordable” for many people in low-income countries.

A4AI estimates that 1GB of data costs $7.33 more in a country with a monopoly market than one with two mobile operators — with an estimated 260 million people worldwide having access to just one operator, and 589 million living in low-competition countries.

The impact of limited competition is substantial in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where that price equates to about 5.8 per cent of average monthly income.

In a range of countries that A4AI tracked for affordability between April and June 2019, African nations made up the bottom 13, with the price for a gigabyte in those countries at 10 per cent of average monthly income or more. The figure was as high as 26 per cent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and more than 20 per cent in the Central African Republic and Chad.

 

Lack of competition

Less than half (65 out of 136) of the low- and middle-income countries studied in the report have fully competitive markets, says A4AI. “This trend underlines the urgency of promoting competition to support healthy markets that provide affordable internet access,” it adds. “Policymakers and regulators must work to encourage competition and support new entrants.”

Dhanaraj Thakur, research director at the World Wide Web Foundation, which runs A4AI, believes competition must be boosted through regulation to encourage new entrants, more options for public internet access and joint initiatives between the public and private sector, and municipally owned or community networks.

Villages or groups of villages can set up their own not-for-profit networks with services that are relevant to them, Thakur suggests, pointing to examples such as the Zenzeleni community-owned network in rural South Africa.

“Access to broadband internet is still too expensive,” he says. “One of the ways to help reduce costs is through greater competition and a greater mix of solutions… We believe not enough is being done in that regard.” This requires a concerted push from governments, he adds.

 

Moving forward

Although progress is slow, Thakur says governments are gradually adopting policies and affordability is improving. The report names Cameroon and Mali among countries that have helped boost affordability with new national broadband plans.

Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu at the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States says the world has seen “tremendous advances” in digital technology, but that millions of people are being “left behind”.

Claire Melamed, CEO of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, says it is vital that “technological advancement doesn’t reinforce disadvantage”.

“Giving people visibility and opportunities to connect with others and make their voice heard are an important part of human and economic progress,” she said. “It’s not easy for overstretched governments to grapple with complex regulatory environments, but coordinated policies and approaches are needed to make a reality of the push to ‘leave no one behind’.”

 

This story was originally published by SciDev.Net

No Region is Immune from Rising Inequalities, Trade Tensions & Declining Growth Rates

By Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations*
BANGKOK, Thailand, Nov 4 2019 – We are facing tense and turbulent times around the globe. Rising inequality is a danger everywhere. Trade and technology tensions are building. Growth forecasts are being revised down. Unease and uncertainty are going up. This is a global phenomenon. No region is immune.

As I said at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, I see another concern emerging on the horizon, the possibility of a Great Fracture – with the two world’s largest economies splitting the globe into two – each with its own dominant currency, trade and financial rules, its own internet and artificial intelligence capacities, and its own zero sum geopolitical and military strategies.

We must do everything possible to avert this Great Fracture and maintain a universal system – a universal economy with universal respect for international law; a multipolar world with strong multilateral institutions.

I firmly believe the nations of ASEAN are well-positioned to play a key role in the solution of this question. I fully appreciate ASEAN’s steadfast support for multilateralism and a rules-based international order.

We are also grateful for the collective contribution of more than 5,000 peacekeepers to UN operations, including a growing number of women.

Strong economic development in ASEAN countries has improved lives and lifted millions out of poverty. But it is important to recognize that there are still people being left behind.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is our shared blueprint for a fair globalization. Yet our world is far off track in meeting the Goals. Together, we have identified many complementarities between ASEAN’s Vision 2025 and the 2030 Agenda.

The United Nations stands ready to support ASEAN to urgently accelerate progress across all the SDGs, in particular through our collective efforts on peace and justice, decent work and climate action.

I know you also keenly understand the interconnections of the climate crisis with sustainable development, peace and human security. Indeed, the climate emergency is the defining issue of our time.

Four of the ten countries most affected by climate change are ASEAN Member States. This region is highly vulnerable, particularly to rising sea-levels, with catastrophic consequences for low-lying communities, as recently published research illustrated.

Seventy percent of global population that will be more affected by rising sea-levels are in countries both within ASEAN and countries that will be represented at summits later this week.

I thank you for your important contributions to September Climate Action Summit. If our world is to avoid climate catastrophe, far more is needed by all to heed the call of science and cut greenhouse emissions by 45 percent by 2030; reach carbon neutrality by 2050; and limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century.

I have been strongly advocating for more progress on carbon pricing, ensuring no new coal plants by 2020, and ending the allocation of trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money for fossil fuel subsidies that serve only to boost hurricanes, spread tropical diseases and heighten conflict.

I am particularly worried about the future impact of the high number of new coal power plants still projected in some parts of the world, including several countries in East, South and South East Asia.

At the same time, developed countries must fulfil their commitment to provide $100 billion a year from public and private sources by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.

I count on your leadership to undertake the concrete actions necessary to confront the world’s climate emergency. We are closely following the work of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights as well as ASEAN’s Commission on the Rights of Women and Children, that have our full support.

The United Nations will continue to work with ASEAN in key human rights areas such as freedom of expression, the right to a healthy environment and conducting business in a way that fully respects human rights – a very important initiative by Thailand recently.

We look forward to ASEAN’s further efforts to deepen trust in the region towards sustainable peace, security, and complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

I remain deeply concerned about the situation in Myanmar, including Rakhine State, and the plight of the massive number of refugees still living increasingly in difficult conditions.

It remains, of course, Myanmar’s responsibility to address the root causes and ensure a conducive environment for the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable repatriation of refugees to Rakhine State, in accordance with international norms and standards.

To facilitate dialogue with refugees and pursue confidence building measures.
To ensure humanitarian actors have full and unfettered access to areas of return, as well as communities in need;

To approve without delay Quick Impact Projects focused on livelihoods, infrastructure, basic services and protection; to allow for a rapid solution for those still internally displaced in the country.

All these steps are in line with the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State which needs urgent follow-up in its entirety. I welcome ASEAN’s recent engagement with Myanmar and encourage its continued efforts.

In the broader region, I am encouraged by ASEAN Member States and China’s ongoing efforts to conclude a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.

The United Nations has consistently called on all parties to resolve disputes through peaceful dialogue, in accordance with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Finally, the United Nations will also continue to provide technical support for ASEAN’s comprehensive strategies for counter-terrorism and preventing violent extremism, including by involving women, youth and civil society.

Let me conclude by once again expressing my great appreciation for our Comprehensive Partnership.

Together, let us keep building on this vital partnership to ensure dignity and opportunity for the people of the ASEAN region and beyond.

*Excerpts from an address to the ASEAN Summit on ‘Advancing Partnership for Sustainability’ in Bangkok, Thailand last week.