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Columnists

How to achieve affordable internet for all

It is a legal right for each and every citizen to have one megabit per second( Mbps) broadband connection in Finland and by 2015 the speeds will increase to 100Mbps.

Internet has enabled many countries to improve on their productivity while at the same time bringing knowledge closer to the people. New terminologies such as a knowledge economy have sprung up as a result of the internet.

It is easier to make informed decisions when knowledge is at your finger tips. This is why the UN wants every person in the globe to have access to internet.

The UN Broadband Commission was specifically set up to ensure that access and affordability is realised. Private sector, civil society as well as governments came up with an alliance for affordable internet (A4AI).

The goal of the alliance is to achieve the UN Broadband Commission’s target of entry level services priced at less than 5 per cent of average monthly income by working with policy makers and regulators to close the growing gap of digital divide.

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It is for this reason that the Alliance commissioned a research to establish why some countries have done well and others failed to enable their citizens access to affordable internet.

The research outcomes launched in Cape Town last Sunday show that digital divide hampers social and economic progress. The report also identifies a number of key barriers to affordability and suggests ways of overcoming them.

A4AI affordability index is a composite index of both secondary and primary data. It covered 46 emerging and developing countries.

Among the top five countries in the emerging markets category were Malaysia, Mauritius, Brazil, Peru and Colombia.

Top five in the developing countries category included, Morocco, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. The report mainly focused on people living on less than $2 a day in the 46 countries studied.

Case studies from Malaysia and Pakistan stand out considering that they have used both policy and regulations to ensure accessibility and affordability of broadband.

Malaysia for example have a programme in the broadband strategy to give out up to 1.5 million net books to their poor population. Through PPPs, they have rolled out extensive terrestrial fibre networks, they are stimulating demand through local content development.

In Kenya the investments we made both in the undersea cable and the terrestrial fibre optic network are beginning to pay off. The PPPs business model that we used to build the TEAMs cable has created an open access platform with the cheapest pricing on the globe.

These benefits should be passed on to the consumer but the delays in building the last mile infrastructure continue to hamper our progress. We have also failed to stimulate the demand side through aggressive local content development.

The business models we are using to deploy metro fibre will undermine our ability to lower broadband prices significantly. There is nothing wrong with operators sharing passive infrastructure in order to lower their capital expenditure.

Each operator is hoping to use infrastructure as a competitive advantage when in fact it is the consumer who will suffer most in the end.

Some of the regions such as northern Kenya still are not adequately connected but with innovative ways such introduction of local roaming, we could very easily provide broadband to all Kenyans.

The rapid change in technology will disrupt many sectors including education. Already most parts of the world use ICTs to supplement traditional teaching methods. Soon ICTs will become an integral part of educational delivery mechanisms.

The weshesha project that provided subsidy to university students acquire computers enabled students to access internet.

This was a token that if we had extensively used it, Kenya could be in the league of Malaysia today. The proposed lap top per child next year comes at a critical time when every country is trying to do the same and improve its competitiveness in the coming days.

We now know that we must stimulate both supply and demand side of broadband. More investment in infrastructure and content development is needed if broadband is to create jobs, improve on productivity enable economic growth and innovation.

Dr Ndemo is a former permanent secretary for Information and a senior lecturer at University of Nairobi.

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