Having more rival mobile networks in a country often means cheaper internet for Africans

Every minute counts.
Every minute counts.
Image: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya
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Depending on where you are in Africa, purchasing a gigabyte (GB) of mobile internet data can set you back as much as $35.

While smartphone penetration has spiked over the past decade in Africa, progress in the reducing the cost of accessing the internet has not been as rapid. Indeed, findings of two new reports focused on the price of mobile data, show that affordable internet still remains out of the reach of many Africans.

In a survey of 60 low and middle-income countries, the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) found that, at the end of 2017, only 24 met the UN Broadband Commission’s target of affordable cost of a gigabyte of data not costing more than 2% of average monthly income. Across countries surveyed globally, users were found to pay an average of 5.5% of  monthly income for a gigabyte of data. But the problem is more acute than anywhere in else in Africa where users pay the most for mobile data relative to average monthly income.


Similarly, a report by Ecobank Research also finds that Africa has the most expensive mobile data, “both in real and income-relative terms.” In Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe and Swaziland—the three most expensive countries—a gigabyte of data costs more than $20. Across the continent, the median price across Africa is estimated at $7.04 with a majority of countries recording prices above UN Broadband Commission’s target of 2% of monthly income.

Ecobank’s report also shows a link between the number of mobile network operators in a country and the local data prices with competition driving down prices, as seen in Nigeria. While the price of one gigabyte of data is higher in countries with only two networks, it’s much lower in markets with more competing rival networks.

An obvious downside to the high prices is the barrier to access it represents for millions and the “digital divide” it breeds. Beyond individuals, the impact of high internet costs can also be significant for millions of small businesses across the continent. Studies have shown that small businesses that use the internet grow twice as fast as those that do not.

But while high prices are an enduring problem, the speed of internet across the continent also remains underwhelming: internet speeds across Africa are still far below the global minimum standard.