A global force for affordable Internet access

The launch of the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), a new globalised conference of key role players, will be closely watched in South Africa where the movement against the country’s painfully high telecom prices is gaining momentum.

The A4AI was launched in Abuja, Nigeria, today with promise to up the ante in the battle to democratise the internet and mainly access. Initiated by the World Wide Web Foundation the alliance is backed by global sponsors Google, Omidyar Network, UK DFID and USAID and a host of governments, tech companies and civil society organisations.

Featuring the Dr Bitange Ndemo, the immediate former Permanent Secretary of Kenya’s ministry of information and communications, the A4AI is promising a lot. Ndemo is known for leading the significant fall of mobile phone charges in Kenya.

Commenting about the launch Ndemo said “In Kenya, we saw the number of internet users more than double in a single year after we liberalised markets. Now we need to spark the same revolution on broadband costs and access, not only in my country but around the world.

To achieve this, we will use our combined voices, leadership and expertise to press for fair, competitive and socially responsible markets…”

Arguably South Africa is yet to learn from the Kenyan experience.  Down south consumers still suffer high mobile phone rates. This is best expressed by the emergence of the civil society based protest movement championed by the Right-2-Know Campaign.

The Right-2-Know Campaign is taking aim at the South African mobile telecoms industry in what could turn into an ongoing mass based protest. Largely known for its protests against the ‘Secrecy Bill’, Right-2-Know has staged protest marches across the country and has been collecting dossier from affected consumers in what looks like the beginning of  serious fight.

Right to Know’s Mark Weinberg has been quoted saying the high cost of airtime and data undermines the democratising potential of the mobile network.  He maintains that the cell phone companies in South Africa are ripping off the public. “We can’t have what the constitution promises us; our freedom of expression and our right to access information”.

Companies must stop making the kind of profits they are making as we have amongst the most expensive airtime and data in the world. This resonates with expressions coming out of the A4A1 launch.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web and founder of the World Wide Web Foundation said “The reason for the Alliance is simple – the majority of the world’s people are still not online, usually because they can’t afford to be. In Mozambique, for example, a recent study showed that using just 1GB of data can cost well over two months wages for the average citizen”.

Added Berners-Lee; “The result of high prices is a widening digital divide that slows progress in vital areas such as health, education and science. Yet with the advent of affordable smartphones, new undersea cables and innovations in wireless spectrum usage, there is simply no good reason for the digital divide to continue”.

The real bottleneck now is anti-competitive policies and regulations that keep prices unaffordable. The Alliance is about removing that barrier and helping as many as possible get online at reasonable

cost,” said Berners-Lee.

Jennifer Haroon, Access Principal at Google, said “Nearly two out of every three people don’t have access to the Internet – this is a massive challenge that can’t easily be solved by a single solution or player. The world needs technical innovation and vision to bring more people online, but we also need a strong policy foundation that allows new ideas to flourish. By working alongside Alliance partners, we can help lay the groundwork needed to drive innovation and bring the power of the

Internet to more people.”

Affordability Facts and Figures (These came as part of the A4AI press release and stated that these are all from ITU report ICT Facts and Figures 2013)

·        In the developing world, 31% of the population is online, compared with 77% in the developed world.

·        90% of the 1.1 billion households not connected to the Internet are in the developing world.

·        In Africa, 16% of people are using the Internet – only half the penetration rate of Asia and the Pacific.

·        Between 2009 and 2013, Internet penetration in households has grown fastest in Africa, with annual growth of 27%, followed by 15% annual growth in Asia and the Pacific, the Arab States and the CIS.

·        The gender gap is more pronounced in the developing world, where 16% fewer women than men use the Internet, compared with only 2% fewer women than men in the developed world.

·        In Africa, less than 10% of fixed (wired) broadband subscriptions offer speeds of at least 2 Mbit/s. This is also the case of several countries in Asia and the Pacific, the Americas and some Arab States.

Over the past five years, fixed-broadband prices as a share of GNI per capita dropped by 82%. By 2012, fixed- broadband prices represented 1.7% of monthly GNI p.c. in developed countries. In developing countries, fixed- broadband services remain expensive, accounting for 30.1% of average monthly incomes.



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