There's no denying the importance of the internet in our personal and work lives. This importance has been emphasized by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as a result of the various lockdowns.
When we talk about internet access across Africa, two issues (among many) are sometimes raised: the digital divide and the cost of internet access. Interestingly, these two issues influence each other. The digital divide continues to affect Africans and grow wider (as compared to the rest of the world) due to the cost of internet access.
Given that, the big question becomes: how do we ensure that everyone (or a good majority) of Africans have access to the internet at affordable prices?
I ask this because X, the Alphabet company focused on groundbreaking technologies, has just announced it is discontinuing Loon, its internet balloons project, which was supposed to bring affordable broadband internet to underserved areas. In Africa, they were already running pilots in Kenya and Mozambique. They cited that Loon was not commercially viable.
Now, if you look at internet access across Africa, you realize that the majority of users are mobile internet users. They access the internet using their mobile phones and via mobile networks. This is also something confirmed by GSMA in their report titled "The Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 202 Report."
"Africa continues to be the fastest-growing region when it comes to mobile phone subscribers with 477 million people having access to mobile phones at the end of 2019. The report by GSMA titled "The Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 202 Report" also states that 272 million people in Africa are now mobile internet users, this is approximately 26% of the continent's entire population."
However, the problem is that mobile internet is expensive compared to other methods of internet access. Expensive both for the consumer and for the mobile service providers.
So, what are the alternatives?
The other more affordable alternative is providing fiber-based internet access direct to businesses and homes. From a cost perspective, this is far cheaper for the consumer than mobile internet. Added to that, fiber internet contracts tend to be uncapped with no limits and good quality of service, generally speaking.
But, there's just one slight problem, as mentioned earlier, most internet users in Africa are mobile internet users. Also, as much as fiber-based internet access is cheaper than mobile internet, it requires a monthly contract the price of which is already more than the cost of 1GB of mobile internet access per month which is already considered expensive in most African countries.
This is why I think we need to all be exploring "Internet as a utility."
Think of internet access as water or electricity. Where the government acknowledges the importance of internet to the economy and development of the country, and as such, subsidizes fiber-based internet access (e.g. through fiber-based Wi-Fi too) through municipalities (just like they do with water and electricity.) This way internet access becomes a public service, more affordable, and has a potential of reaching more people and potentially reducing the digital divide.
But, can we trust some of our governments across Africa who struggling to provide us with consistent electricity and clean water?
Today's top stories.
🎈 It was quite an ambitious project that also sounded like fiction but they managed to execute it. Unfortunately, it is now being shut down. After 9-years, Alphabet is bringing Loon, its internet balloons project, to an end. Launched in 2013 as a possible way to provide broadband internet access to underserved areas using balloons in the sky, the project has proved not to be commercially viable, according to X, an Alphabet company. Link
🧾 Kenya is finally implementing its digital tax. The East African country's new digital tax will be charged at a rate of 1,5% on the value of online transactions. Known as the Digital Services Tax, it took effect from 1 January 2021. Link
📝 Here is what you need to know about Kenya's new Digital Services Tax. Link
⚖️ Egypt's Ministry of Justice has announced details of 9 projects that are aimed at digitizing the country's judicial system. Known as the “Egypt Digital Justice Project," it includes an electronic registry for litigation. Link
✒️ South Africa's Competition Tribunal has issued an “order for interim arrangement” in GovChat, WhatsApp, and Facebook matter pending its final decision. Link
📰 The background to the GovChat vs Facebook/WhatsApp saga. Link
With the growing digital divide and expensive mobile internet costs, perhaps it's time African governments provided the internet as a utility like water and electricity. But, can we trust them to deliver? (Tweet this | Share on WhatsApp)
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