Low-Income Countries See Drastic Fall In Mobile Data Costs

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The cost of mobile data for consumers in low and middle-income countries has fallen across all regions, new research from the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4A1), an initiative of the Web Foundation finds. Low-income countries saw the most improvement, a historic reversal with the progress of poorer countries previously lagging behind middle-income countries. The average cost for 1GB data as a percentage of average monthly income declined by 11 per cent, from 5.8 per cent of average monthly income in 2018 to 4.7 per cent today. Still, among those countries covered in this survey, over 1 billion people live in a country where an entry-level plan of 1GB of mobile data is not affordable. 

Across Africa, where internet data remains unaffordable for millions, particularly women,  there was a particularly steep decline, with the cost of 1GB data dropping from 9 per cent to 7.1 per cent of average monthly income. This fall in cost brings internet access,  a key driver of development and equal opportunity within reach of millions of more people.

The report, however, says the cost of broadband is prohibitively high: if the average US earner paid 7.1 per cent of their income for access, 1GB data would cost USD 373 per month. The report says falling broadband prices drove affordability in certain African countries. In Sierra Leone, the relative cost of 1GB data tumbled from 25.9 per cent to 9.9 per cent after the introduction of a number of more affordable data plans by the largest operator.

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In Burkina Faso, reduced prices halved the cost of 1GB from 14.8 per cent to 7.8 per cent of monthly income. In countries such as Zimbabwe, a rise in incomes made broadband data more affordable, dropping relative cost from 19.8 per cent to 10.1 per cent of monthly income. It is important that these gains are not rolled back and indeed shape the trend towards increased affordable access.

According to the study, declining costs meant seven new countries reached the international threshold of affordability for the first time in 2019, making internet affordable for most people, including those at below-average income levels in Algeria, Bangladesh, Cabo Verde, Colombia, Ecuador, Namibia, and Paraguay. The United Nations ‘1 for 2’ standard defines affordability as 1GB data for no more than 2 per cent of average monthly income.

Because high costs keep people offline, the countries and regions with the least affordable data are also those with the fewest people connected to the internet. In Africa, where data is the least affordable at 7.1 per cent of average monthly income, only 24 per cent of the population is online compared with 51 percent globally. The organization calls on governments to take urgent action to make internet access affordable for more people.

By improving competition in telecommunications markets and investing in public access solutions in places like libraries, schools, and community centres, it says, governments can lower the cost to connect and in turn bring more people online.