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A4AI’s 8th Anniversary: How We Have Contributed to the 2030 Universal Access Goal

This blog was written by A4AI’s Honorary Chairperson Jean Philbert Nsengimana.

This October marks the eighth anniversary of A4AI’s founding. Throughout the Alliance’s history, I’ve been proud of what the organization has accomplished in its efforts to reach the 2030 universal access goal.

I first became aware of A4AI’s work while serving as Rwanda’s Minister of Youth and ICT. Rwanda topped A4AI’s Affordability Drivers Index (ADI) among Least Developed Countries in 2015. The recognition was a confirmation of the country’s leadership vision and steady investments in digital infrastructure over the past decade. The report’s recommendations on device affordability, public internet access facilities and the development of a broadband plan inspired and encouraged me to pursue related initiatives that were already in the works. Working with A4AI on the 2017 edition of Smart Africa’s Women in Technology Summit gave me an appreciation for the incredible work that A4AI does to promote gender equity and inclusion in technology.

I continued to follow A4AI’s activities after that, and when I was asked to serve as the Honorary Chairperson in 2019, I accepted without hesitation. In the last eight years, A4AI is has helped bring affordable and meaningful connectivity to over 650 million people in developing countries and achieved significant milestones such as:

Developing the “1 for 2” affordability target (1 GB for 2% of monthly income) which has now become a global benchmark for measuring affordability. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the governments of Ghana and Nigeria adopted this target initially, followed by the UN Broadband Commission which reduced its affordability target from 5% to 2%. Many other countries have adopted the target since then. This progress would not have been possible without A4AI’s ongoing advocacy for connecting the unconnected and research-based and ambitious policy targets to reduce the cost of the internet and ensure that no one is left behind from benefits of the ‘digital revolution’.

The annual flagship Affordability Report, which focuses on low and lower-middle income countries, has become a reference publication, documenting progress and providing ongoing recommendations for universal affordable broadband.

Despite its small size, the A4AI team has been very strategic and proactive in leveraging global platforms such as the UN Broadband Commission, World Economic Forum and G20. Regional partnerships have been established with ECOWAS and Smart Africa in Africa, UN ECLAC in Latin America, and UNESCAP in Asia. 

In addition, A4AI leads a number of country-level coalitions and direct engagements with eight nations. Notable achievements have been:

  • The National Telecom and ICT Policy, which A4AI helped in drafting, was signed into law by the President of Liberia.
  • The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy formally approved and published the Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2020-2025, which incorporated recommendations from the A4AI Nigeria Coalition.
  • The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean included A4AI recommendations into the eLAC2022 Digital Agenda, which establishes regional digital cooperation objectives for the next two years.

Recognizing that being a part of the digital economy entails more than just being online, A4AI introduced Meaningful Connectivity to establish new, more ambitious connectivity targets centred on regular access, an appropriate device, enough data, and a fast connection. As the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated, simply having an internet connection is insufficient; meaningful connectivity is required to fully utilise the internet’s potential and to survive the pandemic.

Many A4AI partners, including the ITU and the World Bank, Smart Africa, UNESCAP, and UNHCR, are strategically looking at this target with their member states and stakeholders. The target was used as the foundation for the Digital Cooperation Connectivity Measurement Framework published by the UN-Secretary General’s Tech Envoy Office.

Every policy advocacy led by A4AI has been grounded on in-house evidence-based research. Over the last eight years, the organization has established itself as one of the most reliable and trustworthy authorities on affordability. A4AI produces a wide range of relevant research, including the annual Affordability Report, Mobile Broadband Pricing Data with the ITU, Good Practices Database with global case studies, research on taxation and internet affordability, device affordability, and universal service funds.

The recent groundbreaking Cost of Exclusion Report highlighted the price that countries are paying as a result of digital gender inequality: US$1 trillion over the last decade. I hope that this research serves as a wake-up call for countries, organizations, and the business sector to collaborate more effectively so that progress toward a more equitable digital economy may be accelerated.

A4AI could not have accomplished any of this without the 100+ global members and partners from various sectors with whom A4AI has built relationships with in the last eight years. We have less than nine years before 2030; we recognize that connecting everyone to meaningful access in less than a decade is a challenging task that will require a $428 billion investment.

One way we’ll push the envelope even further is by redefining our affordability target, to the journey from 1 to 5 (5 GB for 2%), and encouraging governments around the world to set targets for the cost of 5GB of broadband – both mobile and fixed – to be no more than 2% of average monthly income by 2026.

A4AI has a lot of work  ahead of us and we invite our partners and friends to join us in making the 2030 universal access goal a reality.