Discussions

How meaningful are Availability, Accessibility and Affordability Targets and statistical information when it comes to Fast Broadband Internet?

How meaningful are Availability, Accessibility and Affordability Targets and statistical information when it comes to Fast Broadband Internet?

08 Mar 2017

Tarik Oguz, tralac Research Advisor – Information and Communication Technologies, discusses sustainable development targets related to access to the internet

The Internet has transformed our lives since its introduction in late 1980s. We carry out almost all of our work online. We follow news online, we communicate with each other online, we search information online. We do our banking online, we do our shopping online, pay our utility and service bills online, we receive services from government and private organisations online. We educate and entertain ourselves by reading books, listening to music and watching our favourite movies, sports games and TV series online. And, we socialize online.

Both the overall online traffic and number of internet users are increasing every day. In 2017 the Internet users will exceed 50% of the world population. This is more than ten-fold increase since 2000 where the total number of internet users were about 361 million people. As at the beginning of March 2017; 49.2% of the world population have access to the Internet, however, the users are not uniformly distributed around the world. More than 88% of the population in North America and more than three quarters of Europeans have access to the Internet where less than 30% of the population use the Internet in Africa according to internet world usage statistics.[1]

Many countries have adopted targets and objectives about the availability, accessibility, and affordability of fast broadband (fixed-line and wireless) infrastructure and Internet Services based on the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These objectives are usually also based on improving national averages. According to UN’s SDG-9c, the aim is for 60% of world population to have access to internet services by 2020.

High speed and high capacity land and under-sea infrastructure are being built continuously to increase the bandwidth of total data available to end users throughout the world. Most countries are in the process of installing new technology infrastructure to increase the availability of higher bandwidth to majority of the population.

Accessibility, on the other hand, is more challenging to achieve. National governments need to take more proactive initiatives to provide subsidized if not free access to internet at public locations like community centres, schools, libraries and town halls, in rural villages in particular. This is necessary to reduce the urban/rural gap as well as the gender gap.

To allow governments making strategic investments in telecommunications infrastructure Universal Service and Access Fund (USAF) system has been established at national level, endorsed by both the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) of UN and the African Union Commission (AUC) for African countries. All commercial telecommunications service providers contribute to this fund based on their annual revenues which is controlled by the governments and monitored by the independent communications regulators of each country.

Governments need to make effective use of the USAF to extend connectivity and accessibility as wide as possible into under privileged communities aimed to improve the communications infrastructure and services addressing shortcomings of the existing networking infrastructure.

One of the most intriguing objectives is targeting the affordability 5 for 5 (500 MB of mobile broadband internet costing less than 5% of average monthly income) as part of the Connect 2020 Agenda of International Telecommunications Union.[2]

111 countries have already achieved this objective according to ITU.[3] However, in some developing countries the people whose income levels are at the lowest 20% of the population cannot afford mobile broadband internet. To achieve this for the majority of the population the “average objective” must be higher. The global organisation, Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), a coalition of more than 80 organisations from civil societies, public and private sectors; has been advocating for a more ambitious objective of 1 for 2 (1 GB of mobile internet for 2% of average monthly income).[4] Reasons for this ambitious target are firstly 500 MB data carries relatively small content (video, audio and other application contents) and secondly targeting 2% of the average monthly income will allow people in the lower percentile income levels can also afford smaller data content of 500 MB.

Results of a recent survey conducted by A4AI in 58 low and middle income countries were published on 20th February 2017, titled “2017 Affordability Report”.[5] The report makes important observations and recommendations for the stakeholders in order to make sound progress towards achieving SDGs.

Some of these observations are:

  • National broadband plans have never been developed or are outdated in 41% of the countries
  • Universal Service and Access Funds (USAF) either do not exist or dormant in 34% of the countries
  • Free or subsidised access to the Internet in public places exist in only 50% of the countries
  • 45% of the countries have plans to facilitate resource sharing (e.g.: fibre networks or mobile towers); however, implementation is rare

Recommendations for governments

  • Make effective use of Universal Service and Access Funds
  • Implement innovative uses of spectrum through transparent policy
  • Take further action to promote infrastructure and resource sharing
  • Foster market competition
  • Employ public access solutions
  • Ensure effective broadband planning turns into effective implementation

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References

[1] www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

[2] www.itu.int/connect2020

[3] http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/publications/misr2015/MISR2015-w5.pdf

[4] www.a4ai.org/1for2-affordability-target/

[5] http://a4ai.org/affordability-report/report/2017/