By Prince Osuagwu
ABUJA – STAKEHOLDERS at the ongoing Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, CTO Forum in Abuja yesterday, lamented the high cost of broadband in Africa, warning that it may mar the universal access targets in the continent.
Chief among the stakeholders who expressed this fear was Nigeria’s Funke Opeke, the Managing Director and Chief Executive of MainOne.
Opeke said that until there is a downward drive in the cost of broadband, universal access to internet in Africa may suffer setback.
For Nigeria, particularly, where the cost of broadband is high, she said the need was urgent.
She said this, as her company MainOne, yesterday, at the forum, joined a diverse group of private and public sector players who launched an Alliance for Affordable Internet, A4AI.
The coalition plans to lead policy and regulatory reform and spur action to drive down artificially high internet prices in developing countries and Nigeria’s telecommunications services company joined the group.
By advocating for open competitive and innovative broadband markets, MainOne and over 30 other members of A4AI aims to help internet access prices fall to below 5 per cent of monthly income worldwide, a target set by the UN Broadband Commission.
A4AI was unveiled in Abuja yesterday, at the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation’s Annual Forum in Abuja which was witnessed by communications ministers, policy makers and industry leaders from around the globe.
A4AI is made up of over 30 members from across boundaries of geography, industry, and organisation type and include governments, companies, and civil society organisations from both developed and developing countries.
Members share a belief that policy reform, underpinned by robust research and genuine knowledge-sharing, is one of the best ways to unlock rapid gains in internet penetration rates.
The Alliance was initiated by the World Wide Web Foundation, and its honorary chairperson is Dr Bitange Ndemo, the immediate former Permanent Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communications, who is widely regarded as the father of Broadband in Kenya.
Chief Executive of MainOne, Ms. Funke Opeke commented that “driving down artificially high internet prices will help to connect the high percentage of Nigerians especially the youths who are presently not connected to the internet and make universal access to internet a reality”. Opeke added that MainOne is supporting A4AI because the coalition’s objectives are in tandem with MainOne’s vision of delivering accessible and affordable internet to people across its various markets.
In a reaction to the project, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web and founder of the World Wide Web Foundation said: “The reason for the Alliance is simple – the majority of the world’s people are still not online, usually because they can’t afford to be. In Mozambique, for example, a recent study showed that using just 1GB of data can cost well over two months’ wages for the average citizen.
The result of high prices is a digital divide that slows progress in vital areas such as health, education and science. Yet with the advent of affordable smartphones, new undersea cables and innovations in wireless spectrum usage, there is simply no good reason for the digital divide to continue. The real bottleneck now is anti-competitive policies that keep prices unaffordable. The Alliance is about removing that barrier and helping as many as possible get online at reasonable cost.”
Dr Bitange Ndemo, honorary chairperson of A4AI, added: “In Kenya, we saw the number of internet users more than double in a single year after we liberalized markets. Now we need to spark the same revolution on broadband costs and access, not only in my country but around the world. To achieve this, we will use our combined voices, leadership and expertise to press for fair, competitive and socially responsible markets.”
A4AI has a strong focus on action and announced the following plans during the unveiling;
The Alliance says it will begin in-country engagements with three to four States by the end of 2013, expanding to at least twelve countries by the end of 2015.