Bringing fast and affordable internet to Africa

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased people’s dependence on the internet. In one part of the world, school and doctor visits have moved online, business has shifted to remote work and friends and family have met virtually.

However, the World Bank says that only a fifth of the population in Africa, or 22%, has access to the Internet. This leaves 700 million people unconnected.

US government agencies and the private sector are working with African partners to connect them. On October 6, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, announced a $1 billion investment to provide affordable internet access and support for entrepreneurs and nonprofits in Africa over the next five years.

Announcing the investment, Pichai said, “One thing we’ve seen is how technology can be a lifeline, whether you’re a parent seeking information to keep your family healthy, a student learning virtually or an entrepreneur reaching out to new clients and markets.”

Other US companies are also expanding Internet access in Africa. Meta (formerly Facebook), in partnership with South African company MTN GlobalConnect and Mauritius-based West Indian Ocean Cable Company, is building one of the largest subsea cable internet networks in the world. The 2Africa project, announced in May 2020, will build 37,000 kilometers of cable to connect 16 African countries with Europe and the Middle East.

Starlink, the satellite internet arm of US space company SpaceX, funded in part by the US Federal Communications Commission, expects to begin connecting rural communities in Africa with high-speed internet delivered via a network of satellites in 2021.

USAID, in its 2020 Report (PDF, 5.8 MB), found that increased Internet access brings significant economic benefits to Africans by:

  • Increase employment and income opportunities for highly skilled workers.
  • Empowering digital tools that provide critical information on COVID-19 to frontline workers in West Africa.
  • Support businesses that bring underserved communities in East Africa the resources they need, including electricity and digital financial tools.
  • Improving access to financial services, including a mobile money transfer tool in Kenya that helped lift 194,000 families out of poverty.

USAID is also working to expand Internet access to more women, who disproportionately lack Internet access in poor rural communities in Africa and around the world.

Through the AfChix project, USAID and private sector partners, such as the Internet Society and the Networked Startup Resource Center, have expanded Internet access to women in rural communities across Senegal, Morocco, Kenya, and Namibia.

The project works with women’s congregations to create internet networks that will be implemented and operated by women, expand connectivity and increase capacity to build and maintain telecommunications infrastructure and address social norms so that women can be considered technology experts.

Through the USAID/Microsoft Airband Initiative, USAID and Microsoft are investing in local Internet service providers to expand their networks and bring more women online. The project expands women’s access to the Internet and economic opportunities in countries such as Ghana and Kenya by placing women’s needs at the center of a meaningful call.

One thing that all of these initiatives require to succeed is an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure digital economy around the world. That’s why the United States and partner nations are working together through the Digital Connectivity and Cyber ​​Security Partnership to advance the private sector investments needed to make this happen.

consequences? In 2020, the US International Development Finance Corporation invested $300 million in new data centers that will support ICT development in South Africa, Kenya, and new African markets.

In September, Liquid Intelligent Technologies announced the opening of its fifth massive data center in South Africa. Loans from the DFC, the United Kingdom, and the World Bank supported the development of the centers.

In November 2018, DFC partnered with Africell Holdings Limited to provide a $100 million loan to expand affordable, high-quality mobile and internet services in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Telecommunications is now essential to the country’s economic development and competitiveness,” according to a statement announcing the 2018 loan. “Better connectivity will remove barriers to growth and trade.”