In Africa, the increased availability of mobile broadband, declining smartphone prices and appeal of social networking have contributed to a rapid increase in (primarily mobile) Internet use. A critical mass of Internet users correlates positively with increases in GDP, job creation, the broadening of educational opportunities, enhanced public service delivery and rural development.
Currently, the high cost of access – often resulting from policy-induced constraints on competition and ineffectual regulation of operators – places a high burden on low-income households: the bottom three-quarters of mobile phone users spend on average between 11 and 27% of their income on mobile communications. In this context, rather than indiscriminately applying ‘best practices’ designed for very different market and social conditions, policymakers and regulators need to develop alternative strategies that can be feasibly implemented within this resource constrained context.
The key challenges identified in this study are: 1) lack of knowledge to enable evidence-based policy, planning and regulation, 2) lack of an enabling policy and regulatory framework conducive to investment, 3) assessing whether state infrastructure is effective and improving the coordination of infrastructure planning and network extension, 4) leveraging private sector investments for public delivery, 5) enhancing competition under conditions of constraint while enabling innovation, and 6) ensuring affordable access to broadband networks to improve the intensity of use to build a critical mass.
Key recommendations include: 1) formulate a participatory policy to harness local expertise outside of government through consultative public processes, 2) facilitate public-private interplays to create an enabling environment for the leveraging of private-sector investments to create the conditions for competition and innovation, 3) ensure that future regulation creates a level playing field for competition, 4) enable innovation by not implementing static regulation of competitive markets, 5) apply a coordinated demand-stimulation strategy that will grow the local industry and markets to contribute not only to national economic growth, development and job creation, but also to making countries more globally competitive, and 6) review and leverage universal-access mechanisms for Internet-enabled devices and points of public access (for example, by providing free public Wi-Fi access in municipalities, schools, and clinics).