A new report by the World Wide Web Foundation, established by Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the Internet, has found a sharp decline in the growth of Internet access across the globe attributed to a dip in affordability and that India has bucked the trend.
According to the Web Foundation report, in the last three years, annual Internet population growth fell from 12 per cent to 6.5 per cent but in India’s rise in the affordable Internet Index surpasses that of all other 61 low and middle-income countries. The Web Foundation calculates affordability as the average price of 1 GB of data relative to monthly income.
The research index underlying the report attributes this Indian anomaly to effective policymaking and investment, elevating India to among the most competitive mobile markets.
The Web Foundation report states that the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) has shifted its prediction for the global halfway point for Internet penetration to May 2019, two years later than the previously anticipated date.
Worldwide, 2.3 billion people live in a country where a 1GB mobile broadband plan is unaffordable for those earning the average income. “This offline population (more than half the world’s population) – mostly people living in low- and middle-income countries and mostly female – remain excluded from the benefits of Internet access and face increasing marginalisation, particularly as connected populations move their lives increasingly into the digital realm,” says the report.
“This digital divide undermines opportunities for wider socio-economic development and threatens to entrench existing patterns of inequality.”
To understand why global affordability growth has dragged, A4AI looks at measures of ICT infrastructure, policy frameworks, and broadband adoption rates to create an affordability drivers index (ADI). They found that the higher the ADI score, the lower the broadband costs.
India rose nine places on the A4AI index to an eighth-place ranking in 2018 jumping 15 spots – in 2016, India stood at 23. According to the report, India ranked 11 on access and seventh on infrastructure in 2018.
The A4AI report argues that while policy changes to drive down Internet prices has been sluggish globally, India’s affordability climb to the most competitive mobile market has been supported by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
“[TRAI] serves as a trusted point of information exchange on the quality of service, hosting an online analytics portal and an easy-to-use directory of reports and releases detailing the results of quality of service measurements. In tandem, TRAI has been able to confidently implement stricter rules for operators and penalties for non-compliance. These factors, along with regulatory support for competition in the market, helps explain India’s improved performance on the ADI this year.”
In addition, India had some of the first policies for sharing non-electronic telecommunications infrastructure and a framework for voluntary sharing of electronic telecommunications as well as the second highest increase in private sector investments, the A4A1 report states.
India’s price of 1GB mobile prepaid broadband data as a percentage of gross national income was 3.55 per cent in 2015, 2.69 per cent in 2016, and 1.53 per cent in 2017. While 17 other low and middle-income countries admittedly still have lower 2017 percentages than India, none had even close to the sharp decline in price percentage over the past three years.
Pakistan’s percentage was 1.12 per cent in 2017, while other Asian countries with lower percentages were Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar.
“The stakes of failing to prioritise this policy are too high to ignore, and the consequences of this delayed action are starting to be seen – uptake of the Internet is slowing, digital divides are growing, and prices are not coming down to the levels needed to open up access opportunities for those offline. With each passing year of inaction, the need for action to tackle these issues, close the digital divide, and work toward universal access becomes ever more urgent.”