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Photo by Garrett Patz

Photo by Garrett Patz

Access is more than cost: Measuring the quality of mobile broadband service

Web Foundation · December 18, 2018

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The latest report from the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) examines the policy dynamics that define the quality of mobile broadband service experienced by users across low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Taking a step beyond our core research around affordable access and the cost of connectivity, this brief report informs ongoing efforts to translate internet access into meaningful access for everyone.

This report, Improving Mobile Broadband Quality of Service in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, provides the first set of publicly available data around upload and download speeds from across 61 low- and middle-income countries. This data set, developed in partnership with the Measurement Lab, gives us insight into the current situation around service quality of service for millions of users across the globe and confirms the need for aggressive policy action to enable everyone — regardless of location — to access a good, affordable connection reliable enough for a user to harness the benefits of internet access.

The research finds that significant disparities exist between the speeds found in the Global North and the Global South. For example, the median download speed for a user in Africa is less than a seventh of that for a user in Western Europe. The data capacity of a user’s connection has a consequential impact on their ability to meaningfully use the web to benefit their lives, including across education, health, finance, employment, and governance. As a result, this disparity creates an additional digital divide in terms of the quality of service users in these regions are able to access.

Bar chart with download and upload speeds by region
Median Download and Upload Speeds (Mbps), by region – 2017

The report features case studies from Bangladesh, Colombia, Mozambique, and Peru, which each reaffirm the need for a positive and collaborative relationship, built on trust and cooperation, to support the industry innovation and policy change needed to improve quality of service.

This report encourages the various actors in the telecommunications sector — policymakers, regulators, operators, and users — to align their interests cooperatively around improving the quality of service, including to ensure:

  • Political independence and budget autonomy for regulators to make fair and respected decisions to support market competition.
  • Open and collaborative consultations with all actors as part of the regulatory process.
  • Mobile number portability for users to genuinely take advantage of market competition.
  • Utilisation of punitive and non-punitive strategies focused on encouraging infrastructure investment.
  • Open and widespread infrastructure sharing arrangements to limit coverage monopolisation.

This research report is just the beginning of a new strand of research for A4AI. In looking forward, we hope to build on this report’s findings to support better practices around improving quality of service for all mobile broadband users and to give better detail of what kind of experience does a user really have when they purchase 1GB of affordable data.

Read the full report and explore the data


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