The cost of internet access is dropping globally but not fast enough in Africa

Looking for affordable internet
Looking for affordable internet
Image: Reuters/Ismail Taxta
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Official Correction: This story previously noted that the cost of internet access increased in Africa last year based on a report by Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) . However, A4AI has corrected a methodological error in its initial report to show that prices, in fact, dropped in Africa.

The cost of accessing the internet remains out of reach for millions of Africans despite dropping prices.

With internet users on the continent already paying the highest prices for mobile data relative to average monthly income, new data from the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) shows the average price of a gigabyte (GB) of data (relative to income) has dropped over the past year, but not quickly enough to shore up “the existing digital divide” between low-income and middle-income countries globally.

A4AI’s latest report measures prices in 100 countries, up from 60 in the last report, and includes price points for several data packages. As A4AI defines internet as being affordable when 1GB of mobile data is priced at no more than 2% of average income, Africa falls far short as 1GB costs 8% of average income on average across the continent. In comparison its costs 2.7% in the Americas and 1.5% in Asia.

As Quartz Africa has previously reported, the high cost of internet access—sometimes as expensive as $35 per gigabyte—puts affordable internet out of the reach of many Africans. Compounding the problem of high cost of access, internet speeds across Africa are also still far below the global minimum standard. In many ways, the progress already made around innovation based on access to internet on the continent, including financial inclusion and payments, serve as evidence of what’s possible if there were fewer barriers to access. For instance, studies show small businesses that use the internet grow twice as fast as those that do not.

Globally, of the 100 countries measured in the report, only 31 have mobile broadband prices in the affordability threshold where 1GB of mobile data is priced at no more than 2% of the average income. But for the majority in sub-Saharan Africa, current prices are “well beyond what is considered affordable,” the report notes.

But high costs are not the only barrier to internet access across the continent with internet shutdowns now happening more frequently in Africa than anywhere else. And a report from the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) shows African countries led by authoritarians are more susceptible to these shutdowns. In fact, of the 22 African states that have disrupted internet access in the last five years, 77% are listed as dictatorships, while 23% are considered partial democracies.

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