Kenya trails peers in meeting UN’s universal cheap Internet target

Kenya is among countries that are unlikely to attain the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of providing universal affordable Internet by 2020, a new report said, citing the high cost of Internet data.

The Affordability Report 2018 by Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), a global body working to increase affordability of broadband in developing countries, ranks Kenya 37 in terms of broadband affordability.

“We have this year seen a further deceleration in this already-slow rate of growth. Between 2016 and 2017, the average increase in policy scores across all clusters was approximately 10 per cent; between 2017 and 2018 this average increase was down to just 1.1 per cent,” the report notes.

Among the targets under Goal 9, the UN aims to “significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020”.

Mauritius at number 12, Morocco (14) and Nigeria (18) are the leading countries in Africa in the race to universal affordable Internet.

South Africa and Ghana follow the top three above at 19 and 20 respectively.

In the East African region, Rwanda outperforms Tanzania (35), Uganda (36) and Kenya (37).

The ranking is determined based on two scores: access and infrastructure. Kenya scored 48.92 and 45.48 on access and infrastructure rankings respectively. In Africa, Mauritius scored the highest in access 76.66 and 45.75 for infrastructure. Overall, African countries performed poorly in infrastructure.

Morocco and Nigeria, among the top three on the continent, scored 69.84 and 65.13 respectively on access. On the other hand, Morocco got 48.72 and Nigeria 44.72 on infrastructure.

Globally, Malaysia was ranked the first followed by Colombia and Peru.

A4AI is a global alliance backed by Facebook, Google, governments and non-governmental bodies that look to increase Internet connectivity in least developed countries.

According to the report, about 30 per cent of the global population cannot afford 1GB worth of mobile data. The report said the issue is “acute in low and middle income countries where 1GB of data costs over five per cent of what people earn in a month.”

The report remarks that the slow progress towards achieving the goal is an indication of minimal progress in five core policy areas that can improve affordability.

The clusters include regulatory environment; broadband strategy, universal and public access; infrastructure sharing and spectrum management.

While data from the Communications Authority of Kenya indicates that Internet penetration has reached 112 per cent, which tentatively disapproves the A4AI’s 2018 report, there have been doubts about the formula used to determine connectivity in the country.

However, surveys conducted by other institutions in recent years confirm that Kenya is not on track to achieving SDG 9.

About 26 per cent of Kenyans had access to mobile Internet in 2016, according to the latest data available from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

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ICT Africa, a South African based institution, also separately reports that only 26 per cent of Kenyans have access to the Internet.

Further, a 2018 report by GSM Association says that 52 per cent of the Kenyan population has access to mobile Internet.

A4AI says that the progress realised so far in making the Internet accessible to all in least developed economies has slackened because of slow improvement in policies.

“Improvement across all policy clusters remains too slow and incremental to drive down prices at the rate necessary to ensure universal and affordable Internet access in line with internationally agreed targets,” says A4AI. With the coming into force of the Finance Act 2018 which introduced a 15 per cent excise tax on mobile calls and Internet services, the dream of connecting more Kenyans to the Internet as per the UN targets is in jeopardy.

Already, Safaricom #ticker:SCOM and Airtel have revised their broadband rates following the passing into law of the Act.

Safaricom is the market leader and therefore the changes in data pricing will affect majority of Internet users and further limit the goal of broadening access.

Compared to other service providers, Safaricom has the most expensive data plans.

A 1GB daily data bundle costs Sh99 compared to Airtel and Telkom’s 2GB for the same amount. Safaricom’s monthly data plans are also the most expensive with the cheapest being 350MB at Sh250 and the highest 25GB at Sh3,000.

This contrasts to Airtel’s 1GB at Sh300 and 36GB for Sh3000. Telkom offers the cheapest with 1GB monthly plan going for Sh249 and 36GB at Sh2999.

With these rates, universal Internet access to Kenyans is a fanciful hope. This is because a significant proportion of the population lives in poverty.

According to the World Poverty Clock report, Kenya ranks eighth on extreme poverty. About 29 per cent (14.7 million) of the 49,684,304 people are very poor as they consume less than $1.90 (Sh197) per day or Sh5,910 monthly.

Official data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics puts the figure of people living in poverty at about 36.1 per cent of the population.