In 2021, we saw Covid-19 further expose the growing inequalities among the connected. It’s no longer sufficient to simply be connected; the quality and experience of those who are connected is just as critical. The current public health crisis has continued to bring to light the reality of digital inequality and exclusion. We at A4AI have long been aware of that reality and 2021 was another year focused on the urgent and needed action to advance affordable and meaningful connectivity for everyone.
We’ve made great strides and are proud to share some highlights from the year.
In 2021, we welcomed two new partners and one new member! We are delighted to welcome the Internet Freedom Foundation as a new local partner (IFF), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture as a new institutional partner (IICA), and Amazon as our newest private-sector member.
The new members of the Advisory Council joined for a three-year term that began in July 2021. We welcomed Anir Chowdhury, Aspire to Innovate (a2i) Programme, Cabinet Division/ICT Division/UNDP Bangladesh, Titi Akinsanmi, Policy and Government Relations Lead for West & Francophone Africa, Google, Sebastien Codeville, CEO, KaiOS, Ali Cheema, Head of Government and Industry Relations, Africa and Middle East, Ericsson, and Kemly Camacho, Founder and General Coordinator, Sula Batsu.
Our team launched several critical research items, including:
- Launched the Costs of Exclusion Report, which has found that low and lower-middle income countries have lost an estimated USD $1 trillion in GDP in the last decade as a result of barriers preventing women from accessing the internet and participating online. This piece received global traction in publications such as BBC, Forbes, The Guardian, and CNET.
- Introduced the ‘Journey from 1 to 5’, a revision of our ‘1 for 2’ affordability target. The Journey from 1 to 5 raises the ambition to increase the affordability of data at scale from first experiences online for billions of people across the globe to a sustainable minimum for people to come online and stay online for work, school, and community.
- The 2021 Affordability Report was published in December 2021, and it takes stock of current connectivity trends to suggest a new future for Universal Service and Access Funds. It draws on broader theories of industrial policy, specifically ‘moonshot thinking,’ which refers to the public-private partnerships that sent the first humans to the moon, to re-examine the shortcomings of today’s USAFs and propose new directions for these institutions.
- Published our Sustainable Access Pilot Report and the Filling the Gap Between Energy & Internet Access discussion paper. This expanded the Alliance’s influence into a new sphere of broadband policy development.
And our regional team doubled down on advocacy and direct support efforts, utilizing our research and policy tools to support productive and impactful engagements.
- Asia-Pacific Regional Coordinator Anju Mangal and Senior Policy and Regulatory Specialist Nathalia Foditsch wrote an article in Reuters on how a lack of power keeps millions offline.
- UNESCAP and A4AI launched Towards Meaningful Connectivity: Insights from Asia-Pacific Case Studies, a joint effort to assess the state of connectivity in the region.
- A4AI’s thought leadership and policy advocacy on Meaningful Connectivity were showcased in the following events:
- Supported a gender focused programme, Girls in Tech and Digital Skills with a2i, Code.org, ITU, Facebook, UNICEF: 700+ participants from all over Bangladesh joined the training programme (mostly teachers and students).
- Successfully held two National Coalition workshops on the revision of the Bangladesh broadband policy project. One event was chaired by the Post and Telecoms Minister Hon. Mustafa Jabbar and the second by the Regulator BTRC.
- Held the First Bangladesh National Task force meeting to discuss the proposed themes and multi stakeholder consultation/workshops for the Broadband policy project.
- In Ghana, a stronger institutional collaboration with other government stakeholders, including the USAF agency, was established.
- The Ghana Coalition held two capacity building forums to enhance member’s understanding of the role of income inequality on affordability and to explore how community networks can advance affordability.
- To support Community Networks and other innovative business models for expanding affordable and meaningful connectivity, the A4AI-Ghana coalition working groups are tackling the following issues:
- A Licencing and Regulatory Framework for Community Networks; and
- Assessing the impact of spectrum allocations on community networks’ access to bandwidth.
- The Coalition held a workshop on policy requirements for establishing community networks in Nigeria. The comments gathered will inform new policy development.
- In Nigeria, the coalition submitted comments on several items:
- Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) consultation regarding Determination of Capital Structure for Licensees in the Communications Sector in Nigeria.
- A proposed Dig Once Policy by the NCC, drawing examples from our good practices and infrastructure sharing studies.
- In response to recent attempts to regulate online content in Nigeria, a submission was made to the National Assembly’s Chair to discourage support for proposed amendments to the National Broadcasting Commission Act.
- Finalized and submitted the Universal Service and Access Fund Strategic Plan, developed with inputs from the A4AI Mozambique Coalition. Approved in 2021 by the Regulatory Authority, the Strategic Plan is guiding the implementation of programs and projects in the country, and fully integrates A4AI’s affordability and meaningful connectivity targets.
- On October 11th and 12th, the 2021 Africa Summit on Women and Girls in Technology was held online. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (Former UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women) launched the A4AI’s The Costs of Exclusion Report during the opening ceremony.
In Latin America & Caribbean:
- In the Dominican Republic, A4AI was appointed to the Presidential Cabinet for the Digital Agenda Taskforce on Connectivity and Access. In this role, A4AI advises the government on the design and development of the national broadband plan and implementation strategy. This National Plan and targets follow the guidance of our Meaningful Connectivity target.
- In collaboration with Conectadas, A4AI led high-level workshops for over 70 Mexican senators on gender perspectives in digital projects. A4AI and WRO partners and coalition leadership from Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic co-facilitated the workshops. Also featured were high level speakers from Chile and Colombia who shared practical tips on how to mainstream gender in ICT laws, regulation programs and projects.
- Partnered with the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) to expand affordable access and meaningful connectivity across the Caribbean. Read the announcement and watch the MOU Signing Ceremony.
At the Global level, our team achieved significant success with our strategic efforts to advocate for affordable and meaningful connectivity across key high level platforms:
- Eleanor Sarpong, Deputy Director and Policy Lead, spoke at the United Nations’ first-ever High-Level Thematic Debate on Connectivity and Digital Cooperation, and A4AI published a joint statement calling for a people-centered approach to addressing digital inequalities and achieving meaningful connectivity, which received over 40 signatures from a diverse range of stakeholders, including Microsoft’s Brad Smith and Under Secretary Generals of UN ECLAC and UNESCAP.
- Meaning Connectivity is now a widely used concept across the sector, and a foundational framework embedded in the UN Roadmap for digital cooperation.
We are proud of everything we accomplished in 2021 with our members and partners, and we look forward to trailblazing forward in 2022. Join us on the journey and we invite you to engage with our team.