In March 2019, the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) — a Web Foundation-led initiative — released new data on the cost to connect to mobile broadband across 99 low- and middle-income countries. The data offers the latest examination of broadband prices in the developing world and represents part of an ongoing assessment of progress towards affordable internet.
The data — collected at the end of 2018 — shows that only 31 of the countries surveyed had affordable mobile broadband plans (i.e., 1GB plans available for less than 2% of average monthly income).
- Internet access remains unaffordable for billions. Across the countries assessed, the average price of a 1GB mobile prepaid broadband plan represents around 5.76% of average monthly income — a cost that remains out of reach for many of those in these LMICs, and particularly for those earning less than the average income.
- Progress is slower in low-income countries. This year, data costs fell more slowly in low-income countries than in middle-income countries. Looking at the 59 countries with data for both 2017 and 2018, the average cost of 1GB mobile data across low-income countries dropped from 12.9% to 12.3%, a decrease of 12%, remaining unrealistically high for millions of potential users. In comparison, users in middle-income countries saw average affordability move from 2.8% to 2.0%, a decrease of 19%. The slow pace of improving affordability — particularly in countries that do not yet meet the “1 for 2” target — must be met with greater efforts to improve policies and regulations that have been shown to reduce costs. Countries that fail to address affordability today will see unaffordable mobile broadband costs create deeper social and economic divides tomorrow.
- Affordability varies greatly within and across regions. The purchase of 1GB of mobile broadband data can mean wildly different things to a person’s budget depending on where they live. In Sri Lanka, for example, the cost of 1GB of data represents less than one quarter of 1% of the average monthly income, whereas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the same data package costs over a third of the average monthly income. For the majority of people in sub-Saharan Africa, the price of 1GB of mobile data is well beyond what is considered affordable and in fifteen countries across Africa, 1GB costs more than 10% of the monthly average income.
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