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Somalia offers cheapest Internet in region, Kenya lags on low investment


Somalia has the most affordable mobile internet in Africa and seventh worldwide this year, beating its eastern Africa neighbours including Kenya a new study has revealed. PHOTO | COURTESY

Somalia has the most affordable mobile internet in Africa and seventh worldwide this year, beating its eastern Africa neighbours including Kenya a new study has revealed.

The Horn of Africa nation that for a long period was viewed as a war-ravaged failed State, is steadily laying the foundation of its digital transformation journey, and is overtaking most countries, according to a survey conducted by British technology research firm Cable which established the average cost of 1GB of mobile data in 228 countries in 2020.

"Somalia has the cheapest data in Africa where 1GB of data costs Sh53 on average from Sh662 last year, it is seventh in the world. In East Africa, Tanzania is the leading country with citizens paying Sh78 per GB for the service," the report states.

Abdiaziz Duwane Issak, the Director- General at the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunication and Technology in Somalia attributed the low cost of mobile data on improved regulation of the country’s communication sector.

"The National Communications Act, which was passed in 2017 paved the way for further development and increase of investment for the telecom industry. A unified licensing framework was also developed which protects the competitiveness of the market and encourages more investment in the sector," he told the Business Daily.

He added: "Another factor is the reduction of taxes to attract more investment and innovation. All those factors led to establishment of a competitive market and a high certainty for more investment in the sector. Therefore, the consumer's choice is increased to more efficient low-cost services provided by the operators,"

The research conducted between February 3 and February 25 attributed this to the low mobile data provision monopoly in the country's telecommunication industry where 11 players have battled it out in the past 12 months in a bid to win customer satisfaction, thereby lowering the average cost of accessing the internet.

Kenya, long tagged 'Silicon Savannah' was ranked ninth in Africa and 41st globally, trailing its eastern Africa neighbours.

The study shows that despite a drop in internet costs to Sh112 this year from Sh114 last year, Kenya requires deeper investment in infrastructure to lower the cost of internet for its citizens.

In Africa, Somalia is followed by Sudan at position 13, Algeria 15th, Reunion 22nd, Tanzania 23rd, Ghana 34th, Western Sahara 36th, Morocco 37th, Kenya, Mayotte 44th, Egypt 45th while Djibouti closed the top 50 index at position 48.

Citizens in these countries pay Sh68, Sh70, Sh77, Sh101, Sh106, Sh106, Sh112, Sh116, Sh117 and Sh121 for every 1GB of mobile data on average, respectively.

Zambia, Tunisia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Congo, Guinea, Burundi, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Mauritius all make it in the top 100, surpassing developed economies such as Germany, the United States, Switzerland, South Korea, Belgium, Portugal, New Zealand, Norway and Netherlands.

South Africa, which has the highest upper middle class population in Africa falls short in the rankings, appearing at position 148 as 1GB of data costs Sh464 while Nigeria charges Sh150.

All East African nations are ranked in the top 100. Tanzania and Kenya are followed by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi in the affordability index where people pay Sh160, Sh175 and Sh228, respectively.

Netizens of Malawi and Sao Tome and Principe pay the most for data, at Sh2,960 and Sh3,052 for every 1GB,respectively.

India and Israel have the cheapest data in the world, costing Sh9 and Sh11 respectively, while Kenya's cheapest data for the survey done last February was priced at Sh28 with the costliest one retailed at Sh1,100.

The lowest cost of 1GB of data in Somalia, Sudan, Algeria, Reunion and Tanzania for 30 days is Sh19, Sh27, Sh17, Sh23 and Sh32, respectively.

Digital quality of life

A separate study shows that despite Africa's efforts to make data affordable, where 12 countries rank in the top 50 list, the digital quality of life (DQL) in the continent has been deteriorating during the Covid-19 period, as the demand for affordable, stable, fast and secure online services keep soaring.

The study, which investigated 85 countries in which 81 percent of people in the world live, in the past 12 months, picked six countries in Africa for the research, and Kenya emerged at position 77, beating Nigeria and Algeria but unable to surpass the technological convenience in South Africa, Morocco and Tunisia.

While the 2020 DQL Index Edition report carried out by Virtual Private Network service provider Surfshark exposes Africa's weak and below average digital quality of life during the pandemic, it ranks Kenya 61st in terms of the quality of delivery of e-government services.

"Kenya has better digital government services available than Morocco, Indonesia, Nepal and other countries. But when it comes to cyber security, Kenya comes 68th," the report states.

Key among factors the study uses to rank countries are internet affordability, internet quality and speed, electronic infrastructure and penetration, e-security and e-government services.

It points out that many countries in the world are yet to attain the required global average for internet affordability, due to various policy hurdles that keep the cost of mobile broadband and fixed internet high.

"People in 75 percent of the researched countries have to work more than the global average to afford the internet," the study discloses, ranking Kenya 74th in the internet affordability index, only above Nigeria in Africa.

Africa will have to provide equitable access to internet access to achieve a higher score next year, as it keeps performing poorly in the penetration of electronic infrastructure.

"Three hours and 48 minutes is the global average of working time needed to afford the cheapest broadband internet while 10 minutes is the global average work time required to afford the cheapest mobile internet," the DQL report states.

As of 2020, nearly half of world population is still offline—many of whom are women from developing countries, even as talk of inclusion regarding digital transformation gains ground.

"In fact, at the current rate of internet growth and adoption, universal affordable internet will not be achieved until 2043. Achieving the universal access goal, therefore, will require closing this global digital gender gap," says Sonia Jorge, Executive Director, Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) and Head of Digital Inclusion Programme, Web Foundation.

As government Covid-19 directives in Africa keep favouring online businesses, jobs and services, the cost of mobile data and cloud storage has been a critical point of decision for many tech savvy Africans, who are now navigating the stormy waters of the new normal.

"Eventually the cost of data will come down but that may take time because we have few mobile internet service providers in Kenya. But cloud storage will soon be very affordable as more global providers like Google and Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure make their presence known to local consumers," said Timothy Oriedo, chief executive of Predictive Analytics Lab in Kenya.

While the World Bank Digital Report of 2019 ranks Kenya's internet speed second in sub-Saharan Africa at 10.1 megabytes per second after Madagascar, digital transformation in the country is still plagued by unstable data and a relatively low smartphone penetration.

"The government through the Communication Authority of Kenya is looking for ways to make smartphones affordable," said ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru during the Telkom-Loon 4G internet launch last June.

Kenya, which is now betting on balloon internet that relies on aerial transmitters to bring down the cost of data and boost access to underserved regions during the pandemic, still needs to work on its cyber security resilience, having lost Sh29.5 billion to cyber gangs in 2018 alone, according to cybersecurity consultant Serianu.

"E-security has the strongest correlation (0.89) with the DQL. Focusing resources on improving a country's cybersecurity and protecting people's personal data would have the greatest impact on their digital quality of life," says the DQL study.

Africans are gradually adapting to working from home, but the stability of home internet has become of crucial importance during the crisis, as video conferences replace live meetings.

"During the first month of the lockdown, 49 of 85 countries experienced deteriorated speeds of mobile internet. Internet speed, both mobile and broadband is higher in countries with high ICT adoption rates and internet usage," the survey points out.

Information points used to index the digital quality of life around the world were gathered from data provided by the United Nations, World Bank, International Telecommunications Union, US Department of State, World Economic Forum, Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés, Speedtest, Cable, United Nations University, and the International Development Research Centre.