Have you ever thought about Internet access in terms of privilege, of possibility?
To be honest, I’ve not, not with awareness. So, irony of fate, browsing the pages of some online newspapers, I came across the acronym A4AI, Alliance for Affordable Internet, a kind of Web democratization.
Bombarded by (for me often a bit mysterious) expressions such as Web 2.0, big data, data analysis, stickiness, syndication and so on and so forth, we could easily ignore that two-thirds of the world population can’t get online. We live in an era in which Internet access can be considered as important as literacy, so the purpose of A4AI project is simple, is to drive down artificially high Internet prices in developing Countries, such as Nigeria, Mozambique and Gahana. By advocating for open, competitive and innovative broadband markets, A4AI aims to help access prices fall to below 5 % of monthly income worldwide. By reaching this goal the A4AI can help connect the two-thirds of the world that is presently not connected to the Internet and make universal access a reality.
We are talking about giants of the tech world which built up a real coalition: Google, the Omidyar Network, the Department for International Development, United States Agency for International Development, Facebook, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, UN Women and many others from the public, private and civil society sectors. In 2013 it was already clear that internet access has become a daily expectation and a fundamental source of social and economic development while, on the other hand, high prices lead to a digital divide that slows progress in vital areas such as health, education and science.
As a consequence, the global community fixed a target in 2013: affordable, universal Internet access by 2020.
Bad news: without urgent policy action, we would have missed this target by over 20 years.
Good news: to make this happen A4AI knew what to do and, thanks to local governments, launched a plan at the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation Forum in Abuja, Nigeria.
These the key points of the plan:
- Employ public access solutions to close the digital divide and make sure that those at the base of the pyramid don’t remain relegated to the back of the connectivity queue
- Promote open, competitive and innovative broadband markets through smart policy
- Implement innovative uses of spectrum through transparent policy
- Promote infrastructure and resource sharing
- Make effective use of universal service and access funds
- Ensure effective broadband planning turns into effective implementation
To turn things around, A4AI works closely with governments and local stakeholders in Africa, Asia and Latin America on policy and regulatory reform through a combination of advocacy, research and knowledge-sharing activities. Particular attention has been paid to connectivity has a “human right” and to the right of online expression.
Starting from the idea of connecting the unconnected, which is starting from those Countries in which some years ago people spent the 30% of their income for Internet access services, in 2017, the project has marked a significant milestone: 50% global internet penetration.
Indeed, part of A4AI mission is to publish an annual report and make the point of the completed progress made across 58 low-and middle-income countries, offering regional snapshots and country-specific highlights. The so called 2017 Affordability Report points out interesting and sometimes contrasting results as the fact that, following Africa ADI (Affordability Drivers Index) rankings, African countries score lower than global average, while some regions, such as Mozambique and Botswana, have introduced new policies to streamline licensing regimes and to discourage anti-competitive behaviour.
There are other regions, such as Ghana, which over the past decade, has improved internet access, thanks primarily to the growth in the mobile telecommunications sector. Affordable broadband access in Ghana has the capacity to further advance economic development and access to knowledge and information for all citizens.
However, there is still a great deal of work to be done, indeed Ghana ranks 26th (out of 58 countries surveyed) in 2017, as in 2015-2016, index of the slow pace of policy and regulatory progress.
Funds have been used to build Community Information Centres (CIC), distribute laptops with educational content to students, and support digital skills training, including for people working in the services sector and for marginalised groups. However, connectivity to the internet is still limited and the CICs face long-term sustainability issues, due to the high cost of connectivity (via V-SAT).
New players, including Google, have started laying fibre in selected towns, starting with Accra, on an open access basis, a development that could boost local capacity of smaller internet service providers. This follows the track also marked by the project Internet.org launched by Mark Zuckerberg. As the big names of the Net are approaching developing countries and expanding there their technologies and techniques, we are understanding that such missions and ambitions could be achieved and that “the more we connect, the better it gets”.
Beatrice Anna Maria Gallo