On June 23, A4AI hosted a working meeting of the A4AI-Ghana Coalition at the Kofi Annan ICT Centre in Accra, Ghana – an opportunity for coalition members to hash out what they can do to reduce the price of Internet access in the country.
The meeting followed a multi-stakeholder forum held on February 11, which brought together representatives from Ghana’s private, public and civil society sectors to explore the obstacles to reducing Internet costs and identify key issues that the coalition’s working groups should work to improve. The coalition agreed to tackle the issues of:
- Data collection and research for evidence-based policy making
- Infrastructure sharing and Open Access
- Pricing transparency
Data Collection and Research
During the coalition meeting, experts such as Dr. Godfred Frempong from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research shared that ICT data (e.g., number of Internet subscriptions, what Ghanaians use the Internet for, how much the ICT sector contributes to the national economy, etc.) is generally difficult to access, even if it is being collected. Accessing this ICT data is made more challenging by the lack of standardisation of data indicators and reporting systems used across Ghana’s various government agencies, and by a lack of awareness among citizens as to how available data can be used to influence policy decisions.
Robert Palitz, former CEO of Ghana’s mobile operator Kasapa, now Expresso, noted that Ghana’s taxation system continues to undermine efforts to increase Internet access and affordability. Several other participants, many from the private sector, also expressed their frustrations that Ghana’s multiple tax structure imposes an undue burden on telecoms companies operating in the country. The extra costs associated with these taxes are being passed on to consumers when they buy a mobile phone or data package, and efforts among citizens to avoid taxes imposed on incoming international calls has resulted in Ghana becoming the number one market for SIM Boxes (i.e., SIM cards used to channel national or international calls away from mobile network operators and deliver them as local calls). Experts were also concerned that the government’s use of this tax revenue was not being adequately audited. As Kwaku Saakyi-Addo, CEO of the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications , told participants: “It appears as though Ghana [through the punitive tax it imposes on the mobile industry] is eating its eggs despite wanting chicks.”
Former Chief Director of the Ministry of Communications and now A4AI’s National Coordinator in Ghana, Kwaku Ofosu-Adarkwa, outlined several problems preventing Internet service and mobile providers from sharing infrastructure like cell phone towers, fibre and cables. For example, existing infrastructure across the country is not adequately mapped and there is no clear government policy or regulation to incentivise infrastructure sharing.
Civil society participants were particularly interested in examining the lack of transparency on Internet prices. Consumers, they argued, do not understand what they are getting for the money they are paying for mobile data and Internet access. Companies and government agencies are not doing enough to explain to consumers how many MBs are required to send an email or watch a YouTube video, making consumers wary of using data and accessing the Internet. Stakeholders are confident that greater pricing transparency will lead to more demand.
During the working sessions, participants developed four concrete work plans outlining activities to address some of the challenges within the priority areas outlined above. Over the next several months, the working groups will begin to implement these activities, including drafting and presenting proposals for an infrastructure sharing policy and regulation to the Ministry of Communications, and proposing public campaigns to educate the public on the benefits of the Internet, and on the impact of taxation and Internet prices.
Although A4AI will continue supporting the activities of these working groups, these initiatives will be led by local stakeholders through the leadership of four champions: Kafui Prebbie, CEO, TechAide; Estelle Akofio-Sowah, Country Manager, Google Ghana; Kwaku Saakyi-Addo, CEO, Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications; and Ernest Brown, President, Ghana Internet Service Providers Association. We look forward to seeing what these multi-stakeholder working groups can achieve over the next year to make Internet more affordable for all Ghanaians.
Photo credit: CC-BY World Bank
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