Those who live in low-income countries face the least affordable mobile broadband prices in the world. Now, new data from the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) finds that low-income countries saw mobile broadband costs increase for the first time in four years. The data shows that progress on affordability globally has stalled — and in some countries, it is reversing.
Rising costs for those already least able to pay for mobile data will exacerbate the already-wide digital divide and act as a barrier to greater social and economic equality. Without action from policymakers, the potential social and economic benefits from greater internet access and affordability will be further delayed.
Internet access remains unaffordable for billions
The latest pricing information reveals that across the 99 countries covered here, 1GB costs 6.31% of the monthly income on average, well above the ‘1 for 2’ affordability threshold, where 1GB of mobile data is priced at no more than 2% of the average income. In fact, only 30 of the countries we surveyed have affordable mobile broadband. This means that at least 1.3 billion people live in a country where an entry level plan of 1GB of mobile data is not affordable. Billions of others live in countries that meet the ‘1 for 2’ threshold but because they have a lower than average income, they nonetheless struggle to pay for basic mobile data packages.
Affordability varies greatly within and across regions
The purchase of 1GB of mobile broadband data can mean wildly different things to a person’s budget depending on where they live. In Sri Lanka, for example, the cost of 1GB of data represents less than one quarter of 1% of the average monthly income, whereas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the same data package costs over half the average monthly income. For the majority of people in sub-Saharan Africa, the price of 1GB of mobile data is well beyond what is considered affordable and in sixteen countries across Africa, 1GB costs more than 10% of the monthly average income.
Slowing progress in low-income countries
Worryingly, we’ve seen a slowdown in mobile broadband affordability for people in low-income countries (as defined by the World Bank), over the last four years. In fact, this year’s projected broadband cost (relative to 2017 income data) has actually increased by nearly 16% in low-income countries since last year’s snapshot.
This clearly has implications for regional progress, as some regions have more low-income countries than others. The most significant change was in Africa where the average price of a 1GB plan relative to income increased for the first time in 4 years. This negative trend for low-income countries could explain the reversal of historical progress on affordability at the global level. This is the first reversal we have seen since we started measuring prices four years ago.
Fig 2: Regional comparison of mobile broadband affordability (1GB) 2015-2018 (Note: Fig 2 includes the 60 countries measured in previous A4AI mobile broadband pricing surveys. For comparability, we limited the 2018 “All countries” bar to the same 60 countries.)
Without action from policymakers, this two-speed trend for internet affordability will grow the digital divide and deprive low-income countries of valuable opportunities for revenue and development. As the rest of the world continues to develop and embrace new internet technologies, users in low-income countries that remain unconnected will face growing digital deprivation. Countries that fail to address affordability today will see unaffordable mobile broadband costs create deeper social and economic divides in the future. Read more