Africa Hopes to Close Broadband Gap

BY Sarah C. Sullivan  September 6, 2010 at 1:45 PM EDT

Men surf the Internet at a cyber cafe in Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Men surf the Internet at a cyber cafe in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. File photo by Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images.

According to recent studies by the International Telecommunications Union, only 10.9 percent of Africa’s population uses the Internet. By contrast, the Internet is used by 77.4 percent of North Americans. Though there are drastic population gaps — the latest census reports estimate the African population at just over 1 billion, while North America’s is around a third of that — Internet access in Africa is extremely expensive and very difficult to find.

But new help is on the way. Newly laid cables along the West African coastline are slated to bring reliability and improved communications to one of the world’s poorest areas. The cables will also lower Internet prices, drawing more consumers.

“It’s the first of a new wave of investment that the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union says will vastly raise the bandwidth available in West Africa by mid-2012,” the Associated Press reported last week. The hope is in another decade, Africa will be at the top of the charts for penetration.

Price and Availability Worldwide

Low Internet adoption figures are frequently attributed to nations lacking availability and reliability. Though regulatory telecommunications and broadband providers vary from country to country, most nations rank Internet service in terms of price and speed.

The latest broadband rankings cite Japan as having the best Internet speeds and costs. According to the rankings, compiled by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development: Japan has the fastest average connection speed at 61 megabits per second and the lowest monthly connection price (per mbps) at $0.27. The United States ranked 15th with an average connection of 4.8mbps and monthly price (per mbps) of $3.33. The overall scores are calculated using the sum of standard deviation scores for each of three indicators — speed (average download speed in mbps), price (lowest monthly price per mbps) and penetration (number of subscribers per household).

But even in the U.S., broadband access can vary widely. Last March, Patchwork Nation looked at disparities in the state of Ohio in accessibility vs. affordability.