September 19, 2021

Moving from talk to action to close the digital divide

Case Study By

Mr. Nick Read

Chief Executive Officer, Vodafone Group

State of Broadband 2021

The ideas and opinions expressed in this insight are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of ITU and UNESCO or the Broadband Commission. The mention of specific companies, products or services does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by ITU or UNESCO or Broadband Commission in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.

In 2021, 51% of the world are not using mobile internet, and 44% live within broadband coverage that they do not use. That is 3.4 billion people globally who have mobile broadband coverage, but do not use it. It is essential that we move from talk to action to close the digital divide for good, and accelerate progress towards the SDGs. 

To do so, Vodafone makes three recommendations to the UN Broadband Commission: 

1

First of all, the broadband community must mobilise around lowering the cost of 4G devices in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Our collective efforts to increase network coverage, digital skills and data affordability will have limited impact if citizens cannot afford 4G devices. Nearly 2.5 billion people live in countries where the cheapest smartphone costs over a quarter of the average monthly income. In Africa, this cost rises to 63% of the average monthly income. To overcome this challenge, operators, device manufacturers and governments must come together to implement targeted policy reform that reduces the cost of devices for the long-term. These interventions could include import duty relief on 4G devices, the use of Universal Service and Access Funds (USAFs) to subsidise devices, and policy reform to allow operators to provide device financing to customers without a formal credit-rating.

2

Second, we believe every government should create a comprehensive National Digitisation Plan. These plans can provide a clear roadmap to closing the digital divide and achieving the Commission’s 2025 targets, as well as forming a core part of pandemic recovery strategies. Plans should address all barriers to digitisation from broadband coverage, to regulation, to gaps in digital skills. These plans can also drive private sector investment and partnerships by providing a long-term vision for the country’s digitisation, and contribute towards closing the USD428 billion investment gap to achieve meaningful connectivity globally.

3

Finally, we propose a comprehensive digital financing strategy for Africa, led by International Financial Institutions (IFIs). To bring meaningful connectivity to all Africans by 2030 requires USD109 billion in additional investment. We know that scaled, regional investment plans can deliver faster, better outcomes for populations. However, Africa is falling behind the global trend by not having a financing plan. We will simply not overcome the digital divide in Africa until we find answers on how to close the digital investment gap.