[NAIROBI] A report warns that decent internet connectivity – essential to many essential tasks in the COVID-19 era – is out of reach for 90% of people in low- and middle-income countries.
A report by the Coalition for the Affordable Internet warns that while less than half of people in low- and middle-income countries have access to a basic internet connection, this is not enough for them to access essential health, education and employment services.
The group, which aims to lower the cost of internet use in these countries through policy and regulation reform, defines so-called “meaningful connectivity” in terms of access to faster 4G internet speeds, smartphone ownership, and unlimited daily access at a regular location, such as Home, work or school.
“Now is the time for governments to realize that if people are to harness the full power of the Internet to transform lives and societies, good access is important.”
Sonia Jorge, Executive Director, Alliance for Affordable Internet
The study says that people with this are three times more likely to access health care, get a job or take an online class, than those with basic Internet access.
4G mobile technology can be up to 10 times faster than previous 3G technology.
“We found that Internet users who have meaningful connection enjoy a range of social and personal benefits,” said Ana Maria Rodriguez, a researcher at the Foundation who co-wrote the report.
“This could mean the difference between access to education, banking and health care, or none of that.”
Once considered a luxury, internet connectivity became critical for many during the COVID-19 pandemic as residents faced demands to stay at home and many practices moved online.
The researchers studied nine low- and middle-income countries — Colombia, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Rwanda, India and Indonesia — using mobile phone surveys to estimate how many people had a useful connection.
Teddy Woodhouse, Senior Director of Research and Research Leader for the Meaningful Communication report, shares the main points of the report.
They found large disparities in Internet access, with only one in ten having a useful connection, compared to four in ten with basic access.
In Colombia, while two out of three had primary access, only one in four had a useful connection. In Rwanda, one in five had basic access, but less than one in 160 had useful connectivity.
According to the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union, 2.9 billion people – more than a third of the world’s population – have never used the Internet. Most of these are found in East Asia, South Asia, the Pacific Islands, the Caribbean, and Africa, according to Anju Mangal, head of the Asia Pacific region at the Alliance for Affordable Internet.
“They are digitally excluded due to various challenges including poverty, lack of digital skills, lack of electricity and geographic challenges,” she said. SciDev.Net . Network.
“Most of the communities we work with live in remote islands and mountainous regions.”
The Alliance for Affordable Internet calls on governments and service providers to provide 4G, which it considers the minimum for meaningful communication.
“Governments should also consider lowering tariffs on data charges and tools such as smartphones to improve digital accessibility,” Mangal added.
However, the concept of purposeful connectivity does not seem to resonate with everyone in the countries surveyed.
Just being online is good enough, says Joram Onyango, a Kenyan construction worker in Nairobi, and he saved more than six months to buy a $90 smartphone.
He said, “I usually don’t bother too much with the quality of the connection, provided I can finish the job” SciDev.Network.
“I keep switching from one provider to another until I get more reliable access. This can mean moving from place to place to find the best place to feed the internet.”
Internet-connected men are more likely to have a useful connection than women, according to the Affordable Internet Coalition, which says these disparities exist even in countries that have closed the gender gap in basic access, such as South Africa and Colombia.
Governments are losing billions of dollars due to the digital gender divide, according to a separate report released by the Alliance with the World Wide Web Foundation in October last year.
The Costs of Exclusion report found that 32 low-income and low-middle-income countries have lost $1 trillion in GDP in the past decade as a result of women’s exclusion in the digital world.
Sonya George, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Internet, said it was time to “upgrade” Internet access.
“It has never been clearer that internet access is a fundamental right,” she said. “Now is the time for governments to realize that if people are to harness the full power of the Internet to transform lives and societies, the quality of access matters.”
This piece was produced by the SciDev.Net Global Office.