2015 was an exciting year for broadband access across the world, and one which saw many of our predictions for the year play out — from increased debate around net neutrality and zero-rated services, to the spread of high-tech innovations to connect the unconnected. What access developments and trends will 2016 bring? Our team members offer some predictions for the year ahead:
1. Increased focus around affordability as a key to access.
The attention paid to affordability as a key pathway to expanded broadband access and global development has grown by leaps and bounds since A4AI launched in 2013. We believe this energy will increase even more significantly in 2016, driven, in large part, by new global initiatives and agreements that focus on the importance of expanding access and the need to tackle the affordability barrier. The new UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the World Bank’s 2016 World Development Report, and the ITU’s Connect 2020 Agenda all stress the need to ensure that broadband services are available to and affordable for the world’s poorest; they also underline the urgency of working to close the digital divide, laying out tight deadlines that should compel governments, private sector actors, and civil society to act. Governments will respond to this challenge by developing appropriate policies and regulations and A4AI will work on the ground with its National Coalitions to drive this trend.
2. The debate on what constitutes “affordable Internet” will heat up.
Spurred by the ambitious targets set out by the SDGs and other development initiatives noted above, stakeholders will recognise that broadband prices need to move well below the UN target price of 5% of GNI per capita if they are to be considered affordable. Income inequality, which is most acute in developing countries, is just one reason why the current target is simply too high. A more in-depth look at affordability will reveal that economic and gender inequality skew the true affordability picture, and that a new affordability goal and framework for achieving this goal must take these inequalities into consideration.
3. Governments will develop new plans for expanding access and will set ambitious targets to work toward the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.
Achieving the SDGs will require many governments to revise their existing targets for access, affordability (where they exist), and usage. These new targets will be ambitious, like the global initiatives that are driving them. They will also require governments to develop new plans and strategies, presenting many with a great opportunity to produce the type of evidence-based plans that have impact. Moreover, they’ll start developing plans and initiatives that reflect the need for regional partnerships designed to improve national and regional broadband access. In cases where collaboration between countries is well established (e.g. Northern Corridor between Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and South Sudan), partnerships will bear fruit in 2016 and we will see the development of new ones.
4. Efforts to achieve universal access will push the development of public access initiatives and USAFs to centre stage.
SDG target 9c proposes universal access in the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs) by 2020. Time is short and this goal simply won’t be achieved through connectivity strategies that fail to consider the most marginalised, including women, rural populations, and those living in poverty. We believe public access options will increasingly be recognised as critical for accelerating the availability and uptake of broadband and achieving universal access. In keeping with a renewed focus on public access and the need for these services to be sustainable, Universal Service and Access Funds (USAFs) will be deemed a necessary part of countries’ efforts to meet access and affordability targets. As more countries implement USAFs and ensure they operate in a transparent manner, our understanding of what makes a successful USAF will increase, enabling them to become an increasingly effective tool for bringing access to the un- and under-connected.
5. As lower cost smartphones become available, consumers will demand more affordable data plans, putting pressure on providers to reduce costs and ensuring that competition works for users.
We believe the failure in many markets of ultra low-cost smartphones with very limited functionality will drive the development of, and demand for, low-cost smartphones that give users a better user experience and meet their smartphone ownership aspirations. In turn, we believe users of these low-cost smartphones will demand more data and with that, more affordable data plans and larger data allowances. As demand for low-cost smartphones increases, we hope to see governments help drive adoption by reducing taxes — including import and sales taxes — on smartphones so that they are no longer taxed as luxury goods, enabling lower consumer prices and more people to afford a basic smartphone.
6. The availability of alternative data access plans will continue to grow.
Zero-rated services have gained a lot attention over the last year, with many questions about how they impinge upon net neutrality and users’ privacy. While we expect these questions and concerns to continue, we also expect to see the number of zero-rated and other alternative data access plans continue to grow. (For more on the sort of access plans we’re talking about, please see our research brief on the emerging data plans available in developing countries.) Many of these plans ask the consumer to trade their data and privacy for access. We expect many consumers will be willing to forego their right to net neutrality in order to accelerate adoption and connect the unconnected; but we also expect to see resistance against these practices increase as civil society organisations work to sensitise users to the value of the data they share and the need to protect their personal information online.
7. Governments will renew efforts to develop and implement gender-sensitive policy and targets in the ICT sector.
As the Web Foundation’s recent Women’s Rights Online report shows, the gender gaps in access, adoption, and use of ICTs is significant and is compounding the gender divide both online and offline. Recognising these gaps, as well as the potential of ICTs to improve development outcomes, SDG target 5b calls for the enhanced use of ICT to promote the empowerment of women. Achieving this target will require countries to focus on developing and implementing policies that are truly gender-sensitive, and on establishing clear gender equality targets in access to the Internet. We predict that ICT policy makers will finally start considering the wider socio-economic implications of gender inequality in access and adoption, and will consequently place renewed energy on closing the gender gap and improving outcomes in line with target 5b. We will continue to push for these developments and the expansion of digital opportunities for women, as will any government that is committed to achieving the SDG on gender equality at all levels of development.
What broadband access and use trends do you think we’ll see this year? Share your thoughts below!
Photo credit: World map showing the 460 Million IP addresses that responded to ICMP ping requests or port scans from June and October 2012 (Internet Census 2012)