(by Robert Pepper, Vice President, Global Technology Policy, Cisco)


Over 4 billion people around the world are not connected to the Internet primarily due to prohibitive costs. A new report launched by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) this week in Cape Town, South Africa, estimates that nearly two billion people are living on less than $2/day and face broadband costs above 40% of monthly income; which is far too expensive to be accessible.

The new study, The Affordability Report, details the conditions that can help, as well as hinder, the spread of broadband across the world. The report’s unique index measures the extent to which a country’s communications infrastructure, as well as the degree of access, result in general affordability of broadband. Emerging countries such as Malaysia, Brazil and Colombia rank high on affordability, as do other developing countries such as Kenya, Indonesia and Nigeria, relative to their peers.

But in some countries, millions of people are still far from connecting to the Internet. In Zambia, for example, over 10 million people live in extreme poverty, and monthly mobile broadband services cost at least 35% of the average monthly income. Fixed broadband is even more expensive, costing 135% of average income.

So what can be done to tackle the pernicious obstacle of high access costs? Sonia Jorge, the executive director of the A4AI, notes “rapid progress can be made when innovative technologies are twinned with an enabling, forward-looking policy which stimulates supply as well as demand.” And that’s exactly what we are doing at Cisco.

We focus on supplying the infrastructure to build out fixed and wireless broadband networks so our service provider customers can extend networks and connect the unconnected. And we develop low cost, low energy platforms, such as the Cisco Education Enabled Development Platform, to provide technology supported education to rural areas in India for as little as one-dollar per student per month.

But the best technology cannot overcome prohibitive regulatory barriers. A concurrent focus on pro-active, enabling policies is necessary to spur competition, investment and adoption of broadband. Our research found that an approach balancing supply and demand is needed.

Over the past decade, national broadband plans around the world have progressed from only focusing on supply to more recently incorporating a wide breadth of policy prescriptions to tackle both supply and demand. For example, just this week Qatar launched its National Broadband Plan which has a well thought out balance of supply and demand targets and proposals.  

This important for two reasons. First, a balanced approached ensures infrastructure investments are fully leveraged by a population that is the eager and capable of maximizing the gains of using broadband. And secondly, as we demonstrated in a joint report with the UN Broadband Commission, implementing a national broadband plan is associated with a significant increase in broadband adoption.

The Internet has brought immense benefits to the 2.7 billion people online. But much more can be done to extend the Internet’s transformative power. With a concerted focus on policy and regulatory improvements, the rest of the world’s population will connect to the Internet.

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