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Affordability Report 2021: A new strategy for universal access

This post was written by Teddy Woodhouse, Senior Research Manager for Access and Affordability. Follow Teddy on Twitter @TeddyWoodhouse.

Billions of people have never used the internet before. How do we connect them for the first time?

In many parts of the world, governments set up institutions dedicated to the idea that everyone in that country should have access to some basic technologies. They frequently focus on things like electricity, telephony, and the internet. These institutions are known as Universal Service & Access Funds (USAFs for short). In this report, we propose a reimagining of Universal Service & Access Funds (USAFs) as we know them.

This year’s Affordability Report focuses on these institutions and suggests we should use them to house a mission over the next decade to ensure everyone has internet access that is affordable and meaningful.

USAFs are imperfect institutions. They have been subject to frequent industry critiques, and we at A4AI-Web Foundation have pointed out how they have failed the call to date to adequately address the digital gender gap. But these imperfections should not encourage us to phase them out.

USAFs are, in my opinion, the best positioned institution in several low and middle income countries to house a mission for universal access to affordable and meaningful internet connectivity. But radical change is required – in resourcing, in mandates, in collaboration and cooperation – to make this dream a reality.

We pick up from the ‘moonshot’ theory in Mariana Mazzucato’s Mission Economy to detail the ways that USAFs have brought us closer to the mission of universal internet access that is affordable and meaningful — and suggests how a single USAF could bring all of this wisdom together to reinvision itself for the next decade.

We hope governments today will connect humanity to the internet with the same urgency as a number of governments did to be the first to reach the moon. This year’s Affordability Report offers a theory of how to do just that.

This year’s report is a dreamer’s report, and I look forward to dreaming of better futures with our members and allies in the coming years.

The 2021 edition of the Affordability Report, along with all supporting data and an interactive data explorer is available at a4ai.org/affordability-report.