Internet is basic need, give everyone access – Business Daily
A child talks on the phone in Siaya. Access to the Internet remains elusive. FILE PHOTO | NMG
The traditional list of immediate basic needs used to highlight the importance of food, shelter, and clothing. This evolved to include sanitisation with an emphasis on the availability of running water. Over time, education and healthcare were added to the list. And now, in this age of digitisation, access to the Internet cannot be underscored enough.
Digital inclusion has been described as the combined and concerted efforts of, primarily, policymakers, Internet Service Providers, and other key players in the sector, to see to the provision of the Internet to digitally excluded populations.
Current global statistics put smartphone use at about four billion individuals that can also access the Internet daily. These are positive numbers, granted, but it may be easy to forget that nearly half of the world’s population does not have access to this crucial resource.
Let us break this down further. The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the rapid acceleration of digitisation; countries are now keen on digitising their economies and this, then, necessitates the need for the rapid growth and expansion of Internet connectivity. Access to healthcare consultation, education, information, financial transactions, product marketing and purchasing — all these and more have found a permanent home online.
The pandemic also revolutionised how businesses approached employment, hybrid working has become the norm. In as much as in-person collaboration has its advantages, remote working is now the ideal scenario – a work way powered by the Internet.
This connectivity journey, one where digital access has simplified everyday living, is only possible due to the investment in delivery infrastructure and the presence of other resources such as electricity.
The GSMA mentions that by the end of 2020, 28 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population was connected to the Internet, continuing the positive trend since 2014. The GSMA is nonetheless quick to point out that in as much as mobile broadband coverage has increased substantially in the region, it remains the area with the largest coverage gap — one in five people live in locations without mobile broadband coverage translating to an estimated 210 million. This is where the rubber meets the road. To put this plainly, more than half of the region’s population is still not using mobile Internet, despite living in an area with mobile broadband coverage.
While favourable price points, with respect to smartphones, are one of the challenges impeding Internet use, further investment in delivery infrastructure is the other pertinent factor to consider. Connecting remote areas and locations can be a challenge for technology companies more so if it is areas that are not considered strategically viable.
Despite Kenya being the landing site of six submarine cables, witnessing considerable investment to expand 3G and 4G coverage, as well as the industry regulator, the Communications Authority of Kenya, playing its part via the implementation of the Universal Service Fund programme, the scaling up of network capacity is still not enough to fully realise digital equity in Kenya.
The Internet is indeed a basic need, a healthy blend of regulatory relief and industry support towards launching innovative solutions, can and should attract more investment in the sector, addressing the connectivity gap for the long term.
The writer is the Chief Executive of Mawingu Networks.