Equitable access to the Internet is one of the claims of today’s communication rights.
As the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) points out, not only is the Internet a pathway to information, communication, and economic opportunity, it is increasingly necessary to access basic commercial and public services. As more of the world becomes digital, those unable to connect will inevitably be left behind.
The United Nations has put forward 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 17 aims to “Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development”. It calls for enhancing “the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology”, whose measure is “Proportion of individuals using the Internet”.
As A4AI’s Affordability Report 2019 summarises:
“For the 50% of the world unable to connect, the greatest barrier remains affordability. Across Africa, the average cost for just 1GB data is 7.12% of the average monthly salary. In some countries, 1GB costs as much as 20% of the average salary – too expensive for all but the wealthiest few. If the average US earner paid 7.12% of their income for access, 1GB data would cost USD $373 per month! This gulf underlines the challenge we have to bridge the global affordability gap and ensure that everyone has affordable Internet access.”
The Report calls on Governments to use their policy and regulatory powers to build competitive broadband markets that provide users with lower costs and high quality services. In doing so, they should focus on three core areas necessary to support healthy, competitive markets:
- Policymakers should support robust operating rules, and regulators should provide regulatory certainty for service providers to help their long-term planning and to encourage network investments.
- Regulators and policymakers should play a key role in facilitating infrastructure sharing among operators, investing in high-capacity intermediate links between the core network and the small subnetworks at the edge of the network, and allocating spectrum in a fair and transparent way.
- Governments should use their regulatory powers to support a competitive market environment as well as invest in opening up markets to new providers and end users.
Civil society is a crucial actor in the struggle for more open, inclusive, and democratic media systems. As such, civil society actors need strategies to implement concrete changes to communication and information legislation and policy, related to issues such as equitable access to information and knowledge and to the Internet.