Research published by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), an initiative of the Web Foundation, finds that consolidated broadband markets — for example those with a single broadband provider — are keeping prices high and putting life-changing internet access out of reach for hundreds of millions of people.
Although broadband markets have historically become more competitive, helping to bring down the cost of data, the report suggests this trend is now stalling, with some countries backsliding and markets becoming more consolidated.
People living in countries with consolidated broadband markets pay $3.42 more per GB of mobile data than those in similar countries with competitive markets, according to the 2019 Affordability Report. This premium is unaffordable for many people, particularly in low-income countries, keeping them offline.
When people have no option to switch providers, they are likely to pay inflated prices for mobile data. The report estimates that 1GB data in a monopoly mobile market could be as much as $7.33 more expensive than if it were a two-operator market. This means that across sub-Saharan Africa, people living in markets with no competition could be paying an additional 5.83 per cent of their monthly income for 1GB, on average. With 260 million people living in areas dominated by just one major mobile network operator, the lack of choice has a huge impact on internet affordability and access.
Around 900 million people currently live in countries where the cost of internet access is kept high by consolidated markets. According to the report, if governments and companies take steps to increase market competition, they can dramatically boost the number of people able to access the internet.
Sonia Jorge, Executive Director at Alliance for Affordable Internet, said: “Internet access gives people the tools to earn a living and start a business. It offers them ways to build skills and achieve their ambitions. And it provides them access to information to support their families and be active citizens in their communities. The billions of people still unconnected are missing these opportunities and so are societies where digital exclusion remains the norm. Competitive broadband markets provide the foundation needed to make universal access a reality. Yet, governments must also play their role by pursuing public access policy and investments that build healthy, competitive markets that drive down the cost to connect.”
While internet access is considered a basic good by many, almost half of the world’s population remains unable to connect. The primary barrier to internet access is cost. In low and middle-income countries, 1GB data costs 4.7 per cent of average income — more than double the UN threshold for internet affordability . Across Africa, this figure rises to 7.1 per cent, making access unaffordable for millions.
Women, people on low-incomes, and those living in remote and rural areas are disproportionately unable to access the internet — a digital divide that threatens to mirror existing inequalities and further exclude these communities.
In the report, A4AI calls for governments to focus their policies and regulations on building healthy broadband markets that improve competition, bring down prices and expand internet access:
A4AI warns governments that a failure to build and sustain competitive markets will push up broadband prices and undermine efforts to get everyone online — preventing millions of people from accessing the internet’s economic, social and creative opportunities.