The last time I was in Durban was in 2010. South Africa was hosting the FIFA World Cup and the whole country was abuzz. There was no missing it, no one was left behind. I am coming back for ITU Telecom World. This time, it is not soccer on my mind, but access to broadband opportunities.
The same question comes back: can we harness the full power of the web when half of the world is still offline? This includes politics, public services and market value. Being online is no longer a ‘nice to have’- it’s a right we all have, but only half of us are benefiting from currently.
Over the next few months, we will cross an historic milestone where 50% of the world will be connected. As important as this is, we need to consider the impact this will have on those not connected. They will continue to lag behind as half of us will be benefiting from the digital revolution.
While 50% of the world will soon be ‘digital haves’, only 21.8% of Africa’s population is currently connected (ITU). This is a stark reality. There remains a need to invest in broadband infrastructure in Africa. The majority of people are shut out from being able to learn and earn online, and have a voice. Here are three things stakeholders can do to help connect:
- Invest in women and girls. Our Women Rights Online Digital Audit shows that women are 50% less likely than men to be online in the areas surveyed, and 30-50% less likely to use the internet for economic and political empowerment. We need to change this.
- Use available funds to extend connectivity. There is an estimated US$408 million sitting unused in Universal Service and Access Funds throughout Africa; these funds are collected specifically to expand internet access. That’s enough to bring 6 million women online, or to provide digital skills training to 16 million women and girls. Failure to expand connectivity to all risks widening global inequality and undermining global development.
- Harness the connectivity tipping point. We all have a role to play in connecting the last 50% and ensuring that everyone can benefit from the web. At the Web Foundation, we’re working to change policy to enable more people to come online and have equal rights online. The Alliance for Affordable Internet is working with around 80 members towards this. Ghana and Nigeria, as well as ECOWAS, have all signed on to enabling policy to meet the affordability threshold – 1GB of data for no more than 2% of monthly income.
It is critical that all stakeholders join forces to connect the unconnected and to extend the opportunities of global digital benefits. Join us in Durban.
Nnena will be speaking at the High Level African Investment Dialogue.