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Image: GotCredit (CC BY 2.0)

Image: GotCredit (CC BY 2.0)

How some African governments are keeping millions of citizens offline

Web Foundation · November 2, 2018

This blog post was written by Eleanor Sarpong, Deputy Director and Policy Lead at the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) and was first published at

A4AI’s recent mobile broadband pricing update shows that Africans face the highest cost to connect to the internet — just 1GB of mobile data costs the average user in Africa nearly 9% of their monthly income, while their counterparts in the Asia-Pacific region pay one-fifth of that price (around 1.5% of monthly income). Despite this already high cost to connect, we’re seeing a worrying trend of governments across Africa imposing a variety of taxes on some of the most popular internet applications and services.

These taxes are short-sighted strategies with long-term consequences. While countries may garner additional tax revenue at the start, these taxes increase the cost to connect for all — particularly for those already struggling to afford a basic connection — and so defer on later economic advantages, further delaying the delivery of digital development opportunities. An analysis of the Ugandan social media tax by Research ICT Solutions showed that it hit rural regions, where average incomes are lower, the hardest. Increasing the cost to connect builds up the barriers to connectivity, and contributes to a growing digital divide. A4AI calls on countries looking to accelerate economic growth and build a resilient, inclusive economy to avoid this tax pay-off, and to reach for deeper digital dividends in the future. To do so, they would do well to focus on urgent policy actions to stimulate growth and investment that benefits all citizens, including:

  • Adopting an ambitious “1 for 2” affordability target & implementing the policies needed to foster competition &  drive down prices;
  • Implementing SMART, gender-responsive policies that focus on tackling the barriers to access for women & closing the digital gender divide;
  • Turning effective broadband planning into effective implementation;
  • Promoting infrastructure & resource sharing to reduce industry costs; and
  • Developing strategies to encourage innovative and prudent uses of spectrum.

Africa, with the largest digital divide of any geographic region, has the greatest untapped potential with regards to improving affordable access and meaningful use of the internet. With affordable internet access, African economies can grow sustainably and inclusively.

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  1. Victor Asante

    June 19, 2019

    The article is informative and i commend Eleanor for sharing her thoughts. Indeed, these taxes in some respects could be considered as nuisance taxes as they really add no value and ultimately inimical to free speech and digital access rights. However, considering the fact that there remain extensive gaps in access across Africa, which incidentally has governments with big appetite to increase taxes at the least opportunity, we could be more innovative with the application of Social Media taxes. Wouldn't it be fair to rather tax social media use for investment in Universal Service Funds in countries where evidence proves that with little they are doing more and could increase access to the internet invariably at a much more affordable cost.


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