New Study Ranks Colombia First in Developing World in Providing Affordable Internet Access to Citizens
Colombia is doing better than any other developing nation in terms of providing affordable internet access to its citizens, according to a new study. The “2017 Affordability Report,” released last week by the coalition Alliance for Affordable Internet, ranked Colombia first for the second straight year in its assessment of 58 low- and middle-income countries.
“Having topped the ADI for two years running, Colombia clearly has a strong grasp on the policy framework needed to enable affordable internet for its population,” said the Alliance for Affordable Internet in a statement.
The organization is backed by a large group of public and private stakeholders, from Google, Microsoft, and Facebook to the U.S. State Department, the government of Nigeria, and the United Nations. It uses a metric called the Affordability Drivers Index (ADI) to gauge “the extent to which countries have implemented a number of factors that can lower the overall cost structure for broadband.” Namely, the index measures infrastructure, internet access, and the policies enacted to promote the expansion of both.
Colombia’s overall score of 72.9, out of 100, was the best among the surveyed nations. The country did especially well in terms of access, with a score of 85.3, while its infrastructure mark, of 58.2, could still use improvement. But the combination of these factors and governmental commitments mean that it still outpaces everyone else.
Specifically, the organization credits Colombia’s strong progress to increasing its available international bandwidth, making improvements in competition policy, and the expanding access to underserved areas. As a successful example, it points to is the governmental Vive Digital plan, which includes efforts to increase online access by adding computers, other equipment, and educational facilities to rural communities. It aims to train teachers how to better use information and communications technology (ICT) as well.
The group raised Colombian plan, “Internet Móvil Social para la Gente,” that was launched in 2016 and allocated around $90 million USD over three years toward increasing connectivity. The mobile-focused initiative offers subsidies to low-income citizens for mobile data plans and smartphones while also granting free access during off-peak late-night hours and to services offered by certain government websites. The Alliance says that the program “reflects Colombia’s continued commitment to increasing ICT access and use in the country, and its willingness to put budget toward these projects.”
The government has set an overall goal of reaching 27 million broadband connections, in a country of about 48 million people, by 2018. “Colombia has made expanding internet access a national priority, partnering with the private sector to build and share infrastructure, and implementing targeted policies to improve connectivity among marginalized groups,” said the Alliance.
Though Colombia come in first, it is just one of many Latin American countries making major advances. “This year, Latin American countries once again dominate the top of the ADI rankings,” said the organization. “Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Costa Rica all rank within the top five on the ADI, and all experienced an above average increase in their ADI score from 2016 to 2017.”
Ecuador, which finished sixth overall in the rankings, was also one of the biggest improvers from the 2016 study. Its jump from 15th to sixth, attributed largely to telecommunications reform in 2015, was the third largest improvement after Jordan (which moved up 13 spots) and Benin (nine spots).
Region-wide, the price of mobile connectivity in Latin America has fallen significantly in recent years. From 2013 to 2015, the average price of a 1GB prepaid, mobile broadband plan has dropped from 5.7% to 3.7% of per-capita gross national income. This remains well above the rates in Europe and North America, where a 1GB plan is below 1%. But it is below the 4.3% rate in Asia and the Pacific, and way below the staggering 17.5% seen in Africa.
The organization’s study also celebrates a major milestone this year, claiming that more than 50% of the world will be online before the end of 2017. This is a massive increase from 10 years ago, according to the Alliance, when “barely over 20%” of the global population was online.
The group is hesitant to celebrate too much, however. It says that, while poor and marginalized groups are reaping more benefits than ever from connectivity, the most affluent are becoming so wired that the disparity could lead to even worse inequality unless bandwidth becomes more affordable. In its view, this means ongoing vigilance against the potential exploitation from those with an interest in keeping costs high. Until more progress is made, it will continue to call for more governments to promote cheaper connectivity for all their people.
“Though broadband prices continue to fall, they simply aren’t dropping fast enough,” said the report. “Meanwhile, high and growing income inequality in many countries conspires to ensure that only the relatively rich can afford a private internet subscription, and public access solutions remain few and far between. A majority of countries are failing to take the action needed to drive prices down and enable access for all.”