Africa is the continent where connectivity is the most expensive. The digital divide does not favor access to services and knowledge. The ITU calls on States to ensure sufficient connectivity for all.
The new rapport 2022 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Global Connectivity Report shows that Africa is lagging behind in internet and digital.
So in 2021, the report reads, an estimated 2,9 billion people worldwide were still offline. Asia-Pacific concentrating the majority (1,7 billion) of this population, followed by Africa with 738 million people.
But, “in terms of percentage, Africa is the least connected region in 2020, with 67% of the population offline, followed by Asia-Pacific (39%) and the Arab States (34%)”, write the authors of the report.
Moreover, we learn, more than 60% of the population in Europe lives less than 10 kilometers from a network fibre, while the reach of fiber optic networks in Africa is only 25% compared to 22%d in Asia-Pacific and 26% in the Arab States.
This delay can be explained, among other things, by a low Internet penetration rate and a high cost of connectivity.
“Africa is indeed the region where connectivity costs the most. The price of a basic mobile Internet subscription including 2GB of data for a consumer in an African country costs an average of 6,5% of their monthly income,” reveals Thierry Geiger, Senior Economist and Head of the Data and Analytics Division at ITU, interviewed by SciDev.Net.
Thierry Geiger specifies that “this represents three times the world median value (1,9%). For a fixed broadband connection, the median cost in Africa is 18% of average income, more than five times the global median value”.
To illustrate this problem of high cost, Denis Kalenga, software engineer relies on the example of Torapos, a mobile application of which he is the promoter and which offers answers to the needs of small Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in managing their day-to-day operations (inventories, sales, customers, marketing, etc.) and backing up their data.
“Alas, customers are afraid to download the app and even those who do download it don't use it regularly due to the internet cost associated with its use,” he says.
An observation that pushes him to wonder about the future of start-ups, because “how can they succeed when their customers still have a phobia of applications that require Internet access? », Worries the engineer.
However, connection costs vary within countries. Remote areas where populations have low incomes paradoxically bear higher tariffs.
Indeed, on the urban-rural divide, the report notes that the higher the overall internet use, the smaller the urban-rural divide.
“In Europe, for example, urban usage was less than 10% higher than rural usage. This contrasts sharply with Africa where internet usage in urban areas was almost 3,5 times higher than in rural areas,” it reads.
For example, explains Thierry Gieger, "we determined that in the group of low-income and middle-income countries, the cost of a basic mobile Internet subscription was four times cheaper in countries where the urban population represents at least 80% of the population than in countries where the rural population was at least 80% of the population,” he says.
Internet access rates also remain low in several African countries. The head of the data and analysis division at the ITU also recalls that in certain African countries, “less than 10% of the population use the Internet”.
Un rapport of the Groupe Spécial Mobile Association (GSMA) published in 2018 affirms that in the DRC, 64,5% of the inhabitants do not have access to mobile telephony services and only 13% of the inhabitants have a Smartphone and 14% have access to the Internet .
However, writes this document, "the technologies mobile phones make it possible to provide more efficient public services and improve access to isolated and underserved populations to health services. health and teaching. Their portability, traceability and affordable computing power allow them to deliver a wide range of highly customizable services to large numbers of people. »
“Those who are not connected or who are poorly connected cannot fully use digital services, including basic and public services, a phenomenon amplified by the pandemic COVID-19. They cannot participate in the digital economy either, which is an important source of skilled jobs,” adds Thierry Geiger.
"But if people don't have access to online tools or if it costs them a huge percentage of their income to be online all month, no one will embrace this culture. This means that people will not improve their skills and knowledge. This will have a negative impact on themselves and on the progress of the country”, analyzes Denis Kalenga.
However, Paterne Kadiat, adviser to the Minister of Posts, Telecommunications, News information and communication technologies of the DRC, wants to be rather optimistic.
If he recognizes that the Congolese State has fallen behind in its digital transformation, he notes that "today, the DRC is determined to catch up, hence the implementation of the National Digital Plan".
“Basic connectivity infrastructure is being established to drastically lower the cost of the Internet. There is still a long way to go, of course, but considering the Internet as a luxury is absurd. Because, to date, the cost of a gigabyte is four times cheaper than 5 years ago”, specifies the adviser.
Added to this, “governments are implementing what is known as the Universal Service Fund, which aims to promote telecommunications in rural and peri-urban areas…”, confides Paterne Kadiat.
“The universal service fund was collected by the State but allocated to the national budget. From now on, this will no longer be the case because a public establishment has been set up to manage this fund, ”he argues.
In the DRC, 3% of gross revenues generated by telecommunications operators feed this Fund.
In addition, according to the director of the ITU regional office for Africa, Anne-Rachel Inne, the agency and the Congolese government are currently collaborating on a project dealing with "different aspects ranging from the connectivity of schools and communities - project GIGA has the cybersecurity networks that are being put in place by the government to connect the country,” she explains.
The ITU report recalls the mission of ensuring "satisfactory connectivity" for all as one of the Sustainable Development Goals.
This article was published on the French version of ScidDev.net and is reproduced with their kind permission.