On the 29th of September 2020, the Lawyers Hub formed part of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (#FIFAfrica2020) organized by CIPESA. The session featured a discussion on the challenges in achieving meaningful internet connectivity in Africa and was hosted by Catherine Muya and Selina Onyando, both Tech Policy Fellows at the Lawyers Hub. The discussion was presided over by panellists in both public and private sector, working to promote meaningful connectivity. They included Onika Makwakwa, Head of Africa Region at the Alliance for Affordable Internet, Lorna Nyandat, Head of Legal and Regulatory at the American Tower Corporation Kenya and Robin Busolo of the Communications Authority of Kenya. The multi-sector approach gave the discussion an incredible view of the policy needs and how collaboration between the sectors can aid the full realisation of meaningful internet connectivity.
Lorna Nyandat from American Tower Corporation Kenya and Miss Onica Makwakwa from Alliance for Affordable Internet broke down what meaningful connectivity entails. Meaningful internet accessibility includes access to fast internet (Speed of the internet), Access to smart devices and sufficient for user purpose as well. It was reiterated that meaningful internet access is not quantitative but qualitative and subjective to the user purpose.
Robin Busolo from the Communication Authority of Kenya chipped in to discuss the infrastructure aspects and the role that the Communication Authority of Kenya plays in enhancing meaningful internet connectivity. Through the utilization of the Universal Service Fund (USF), the Communication Authority has embarked on phased missions to provide broadband connectivity. In the first phase, they connected 656 Secondary schools to broadband internet. He further gestured the collaboration being undertaken by the Authority using the USF to extend the internet infrastructure to government agencies including the National Police Service and the Judiciary of Kenya.
Miss Onica while explaining the aspect of internet affordability elucidated on the A4AI rating on affordability. She deposed that affordable internet means internet that is priced at 2% of the average monthly income. This is the standard gauge for internet affordability. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) indicates that 54% of the world population has access to the internet. This statistic is based on people who have access to the internet once every three months anywhere and using any device. In her presentation, she lamented the need to have the definition of access narrowed down to means a person being able to use the internet daily. This narrowing down is critical and is a position many will agree with. Its adverse adoption would mean that fewer people than 54% indicated have access to the internet, thus restating the need for improved connectivity.
While commenting on the Internet speeds, Mr. Robin from the Communication Authority answered a question raised by an attendee during the session on the roll out of the 4G network. He posited that the Communication Authority is only rolling 2G and 3G network to areas with internet gap. He further clarified that only Safaricom is rolling out 4G network and not the Communication Authority of Kenya. Mobile internet speed in Kenya is dependent on service providers. This is a challenge to people living in low-income and rural areas as Internet Service Providers tend to concentrate on market areas with higher demand.
The panel highlighted both policy and other challenges on meaningful internet connectivity such as; the definition of meaningful internet connectivity; the measure of what amounts to internet access; internet infrastructure challenges; infrastructure supporting ecosystem; the need for classification of telecommunication as a basic need; digital gender gap and digital skills.
In the discussion, some recommendations were put across such as; Internet accessibility should be narrowed down to only refer accessibility as the ability to use the internet on daily basis and not once per month; that meaningful internet access means fast and reliable internet subject to user purpose and ability to access smart devices; that broadband connectivity should be enhanced across the country through building the necessary infrastructure; using of the universal service fund to build internet infrastructure and as incentives to telecommunication agencies building the telecommunication infrastructure; development of policy that will shape the supporting infrastructure ecosystem requiring rolling out of internet infrastructure with the supporting ecosystem infrastructure such as road networks and electricity network, this is by adoption of smart policies to leverage the proposal by enhancing infrastructure sharing across utilities; bridging the digital gender gap by empowering and training more women to be able to access and the internet and be able to use smart devices that are key to enable access to the internet; development of policies that will encourage more investment in telecommunication; shaping policy and regulations to classify access to internet as a basic right and finally need for ecosystem collaboration by building private-public-partnerships to build the internet infrastructure contributing to meaningful internet access.
We look forward to furthering this conversation and future partnerships at the Africa LawTech Festival 2021.