Internet access should not be a luxury. Not only a pathway to information, communication, and economic opportunity, the internet is increasingly necessary to access basic commercial and public services. As more of the world becomes digital, those unable to connect will be left behind. It is therefore crucial that everyone has the opportunity to get online.
For the 50% of the world unable to connect, the greatest barrier remains affordability. Across Africa, the average cost for just 1GB data is 7.12% of the average monthly salary. In some countries, 1GB costs as much as 20% of the average salary — too expensive for all but the wealthiest few. If the average US earner paid 7.12% of their income for access, 1GB data would cost USD $373 per month! This gulf underlines the challenge we have to bridge the global affordability gap and ensure that everyone has affordable internet access.
The Affordability Report looks at the policy progress lowand middle-income countries are making to support affordable internet access. This year it explores how governments can shape healthy, competitive markets1 supported by public access solutions to deliver affordable and meaningful connectivity to everyone.
The Affordability Drivers Index (ADI) measures government policies that impact internet affordability. This year’s index shows that:
- Low-income countries made impressive strides towards affordability: In this year’s ADI, low-income countries increased their scores three times as much as middle-income countries, on average. As a group, low-income countries saw a 15.6% increase in their ADI score from 2018 to 2019: this compares to 4.5% and 5.1% for lower-middle and upper-middle-income countries, respectively.
- Competition is core to successful broadband markets: Our analysis shows that healthy market competition leads to more affordable internet access, giving consumers choices and adding competitive pressure to lower prices. Conversely, a lack of competition is one of the biggest barriers to affordability. Our analysis estimates that consumers in countries with consolidated markets pay USD $3.42 more per GB for mobile data than those in similar countries with healthy markets. Policymakers and regulators must work to encourage competition and support new entrants to enter their markets.
- Public access options are vital to strengthening markets: While promoting competitive markets should be governments’ top priority, competition only goes so far. Markets should be complemented with public access options such as free public Wi-Fi and telecentres to fill gaps in the market and add further competitive pressure.
While it is clear that competition is core to the success of broadband markets, many countries are falling short. Of the 136 low- and middle-income countries studied in this report, only 65 have fully competitive markets. Globally, over 260 million people have just one choice of major mobile network operator, and an estimated 589 million people live in countries where a lack of competition keeps internet prices higher than they should be. While there is a historic trend towards liberalisation, this year’s report shows that progress on market competition is stalling and, in some cases, markets are becoming more consolidated. For example, international telecoms company Millicom exited from African markets, threatening a wave of consolidation across the continent. In India, operator Reliance Jio — which was once a disrupting force bringing millions online via mobile internet — is now rapidly consolidating the market.