“Many of us have spent much of our lives without access to telecommunications or information services, and many of us will not live to see the flowering of the information age. But our children will. They are our greatest asset. And it is our responsibility to give them the skills and insight to build the information societies of the future.”
These were the words of Nelson Mandela, whose presidency of South Africa was widely hailed for bringing the nation together through common understanding. “The young people of the world must be empowered to participate in the building of the information age. They must become the citizens of the global information society. And we must create the best conditions for their participation”.
The ICTD – the International Conference on Information & Communications Technologies and Development – which took place in Cape Town in December 2013, provided a launch platform for a key piece of research by the Alliance For Affordable Internet (A4AI), a new coalition of public sector, NGOs and enterprises including Alcatel-Lucent with a shared aim of seeing affordable access to mobile and fixed-line Internet in the developing world.
The launch of the report entitled was accompanied by a keynote by Dr. Bitange Ndemo, the former Permanent Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communications and widely regarded as the ‘father’ of broadband in Kenya. In his speech as honorary chairperson of the A4AI, Dr. Ndemo outlined how the report explores links between Internet policy and affordability in emerging and developing countries.
“The Affordability Report must serve as a spur to action for policymakers, businesses and civil society organisations around the globe,” says Dr. Ndemo. “In just two years, the UN Broadband Commission target is for everyone, everywhere to be able to access broadband Internet at a cost of less than 5% of their monthly income. Our data shows that there is a long way to go before this goal is reached, particularly for the world’s poorest people.”
Sonia Jorge, executive director of A4AI adds: “Within our findings, there are beacons of hope. Countries such as Malaysia, Brazil or Morocco, which top our Affordability Index, show how rapid progress can be made when innovative technologies are twinned with an enabling, forward-looking policy and regulatory environment which stimulates supply as well as demand. A4AI is committed to working hand-in-hand with countries to help drive down the cost of broadband.”
Via a combination of advocacy, research and knowledge-sharing, the alliance aims to facilitate the target of the UN-backed Broadband Commission’s target of realizing entry-level broadband services priced at less than 5% of average monthly income.
With an estimated two-thirds of people in developing countries unable to access the Internet, the A4AI focuses on creating the conditions for open, efficient and competitive broadband markets via policy and regulatory reform. For example, a key finding of the A4AI report is that for those living on less than USD $2 per day, entry-level broadband costs on average 40% of monthly income. In many countries this figure exceeds 80% or 100%. As a result, hundreds of millions of people are economically denied online access, deepening the digital divide and constraining economic and social progress.
Another feature of the A4AI’s report is its ‘Affordability Index’, which ranks developing nations by their communications infrastructure, access and affordability of that Internet access. Malaysia, Mauritius and Brazil top the Index for 2013, with Morocco ranked as the leading developing country. Zimbabwe, Malawi and Yemen prop up the table. The report concludes by making some key policy and regulatory recommendations capable of driving real change.
A key pillar of the A4AI’s work is the generation of differentiated and robust research to help policy makers with reforms, along with knowledge sharing as a means of unlocking the benefits of raising rates of Internet penetration. This research is underpinned by an extensive membership that includes Alcatel-Lucent, Google, Microsoft and more than 30 members committed to policy best practices that will guide advocacy efforts at an international level, helping to drive down prices, innovative spectrum allocation, the promotion of infrastructure sharing and increasing transparency and public participation in regulatory decisions.
During the ICTD conference, Daniel Jaeger, Vice-President of Alcatel-Lucent in Africa, took part in a panel discussion on the role of research in driving Internet access in the region. “We believe that broadband is essential in enabling and addressing today’s pressing global challenges,” he said. “We are now able to start measuring the significant positive impact broadband connectivity is having on improving access to education and health, how it creates jobs and economic growth, reduces poverty, facilitates better governance, enables gender equality and connects citizens.”
It’s a point Gabrielle Gauthey, Vice-President of Public & Government Affairs at Alcatel-Lucent wholeheartedly agrees with. “Ultra-broadband access can greatly help accelerate the social and economic development of a country,” she says, adding, “However it can only work if awareness is raised and the right commitments are taken by key public and private stakeholders with one of the underlying assumptions that broadband must be accessible to all and therefore must be affordable, especially at the bottom of the ‘pyramid’, where broadband will have the most positive impact on better access to services like health and education. And with that in mind, governments must also play a far bigger role in stimulating demand for services, especially around e-government related services”.
Alcatel-Lucent has been working with governments across the world on trying to find such solutions, also working closely with the Broadband Commission. The company is also engaging with a number of organizations to build multi-stakeholder partnerships and projects around ‘mHealth’ and ‘mLearning’, for example laying the foundations for a major initiative in Senegal that will use mobile phones to make diabetes care widely available. For it to succeed, however, the price of access must be affordable.
The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) is a global coalition committed to driving down the cost of internet access in less developed countries.
A4AI focuses on creating the conditions for open, efficient and competitive broadband markets via policy and regulatory reform. Through a combination of advocacy, research and knowledge-sharing, the Alliance aims to facilitate the achievement of the UN Broadband Commission target of entry-level broadband services priced at less than 5% of average monthly income. In doing so, A4AI will help to connect the two-thirds of people in developing countries who cannot access the internet. A4AI members are drawn from both developed and less developed countries and include public, private and not-for-profit organizations. The World Wide Web Foundation, founded by Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, initiated the Alliance which launched in October 2013. Global sponsors are Google, Omidyar Network, USAID and the UK DFID and the Alliance has more than 40 members, including Nigeria and Ghana. For more details, please visit:www.a4ai.org.
The Alliance’s full membership includes: Google Inc, Alcatel-Lucent, Commonwealth Telecommunications, Organisation Association for Progressive Communications (APC), Omidyar Network, Cisco, Center for Technology and Society of the Getulio Vargas Foundation (CTS/FGV), Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, UK Department for International Development, Digicel, Dialogo Regional sobre Sociedad de la Informacion (DIRSI), Consumers International, USAID, Ericsson, Government of Sweden,Ford Foundation, Facebook, US State Department, Global Partners, Intel Corporation, Grameen Foundation, Main One, Internet Society, Microsoft, Corp., Inveneo, Yahoo!, IREX/Beyond Access, New America, Foundation’s Open, Technology Institute, (OTI), Research ICT Africa, Software & Information, Industries Association, The Centre for Internet & Society, Women in Global, Science and Technology.
Alcatel-Lucent has had a presence in Africa for close to 40 years and today is responsible for telecommunications projects throughout the continent, including 10 4G LTE mobile networks and work on 6 out of 10 undersea cable projects over the last decade that have brought Internet connectivity to Africa.
By Marie Royce and Florence Gaudry-Perkins from Global Government & Public Affairs in Alcatel-Lucent
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