Global internet access is plunging fast due to high cost of data, billions remain offline

The internet today is central to our lives. Many depend on the web to shop, bank, learn, work, date and play to a degree unimaginable even ten years ago. On the odd occasion our connection goes down we panic. Suddenly hundreds of simple day-to day tasks become inordinately difficult or time consuming.

Yet, that’s life for over half the world’s population which is still offline. The latest UN figures show that the rate of people getting connected is slowing. In 2007 people came online at a rate of 19 per cent annually. Last year this dropped to just 6 per cent – and the rate of growth is projected to fall further.

A new report by the Alliance for Affordable internet says over two billion people live in countries without affordable internet. That means getting connected to the internet is becoming challenging for many. That also cuts off many from enjoying the opportunities that come with getting connected.

The 2018 Affordability released on Tuesday also said that over the years very little has been done in some countries to improve infrastructure.

Governments have also barely improved or “prioritize needed ICT policy reforms.” According to the report “more than 2.3 billion people live in countries where just 1GB of mobile data is not affordable.” The 2018 Affordability Report “warns that this high cost to connect is keeping billions offline and pushing the global goal of universal internet access further out of reach.”

What does this newest data show?

 

 

  • Broadband prices are coming down. Our newest data shows that at the end of 2017, 24 of the countries surveyed had affordable mobile broadband plans (i.e., 1GB plans available for less than 2% of average monthly income). This represents an improvement on the previous year, when just 19 countries surveyed met the “1 for 2” target.
  • But, the average cost to connect is still too high.  Across the countries assessed, the average price of a 1GB mobile prepaid broadband plan represents around 5.5% of average monthly income — a cost that remains out of reach for many of those in these LMICs, and particularly for those earning less than the average income.
  • And progress is slow. While affordability is improving across the board, improvement is slow. While last year’s data showed that affordability in Africa had improved by nearly 3 percentage points, this year’s update shows that the improvement in price relative to income in Africa was only 0.52%. Indeed, many of the cheapest mobile broadband plans we observed in that region were actually the same offer (in terms of data quantity and price) between the two years. The slow pace of improving affordability — particularly in countries that do not yet meet the “1 for 2” target — must be met with greater efforts to improve policies and regulations that have been shown to reduce costs.
  • Affordability varies by region, with prices lowest across Asia, and highest across Africa. The new data shows that Asia has the most affordable 1GB plans, with prices averaging around 1.54% of income. This compares with 3.58% in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 8.76% in Africa. Because of continuous improvements, a large number of  Asian countries (13 out of 17) now meet the “1 for 2” target, while only 4 African countries (Tunisia, Nigeria, Mauritius, and Egypt) do so.

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