More Africa News5 Recommendations for Universal Access to Smartphones and Widespread Internet Adoption in Africa (ITU/Unesco)

September 29, 2022by myles0

Mobile phones are currently the most widely used means of accessing the Internet in Africa. But due to the high cost of broadband-enabled devices, many people remain deprived of the digital dividends. This situation threatens to hamper the digital economy on the continent.

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Fund (Unesco), the low Internet penetration rate in Africa (33%) is partly the result of people’s inability to afford a smartphone. This problem stems above all from the high cost and limited availability of these devices. Through the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, the two partners have developed a five-point strategy for universal access to smartphones in Africa.

In their joint report “Strategies Towards Universal Smartphone Access”, published in September, ITU and Unesco advocate above all win-win partnerships between players in the digital value chain. “  Every part of the mobile internet ecosystem, from hardware manufacturers to service providers, digital platforms and governments, would benefit from connecting unconnected populations. It should therefore be the responsibility of all actors to make joint efforts to reduce the digital divide and remove obstacles at their respective level  .

Secondly, the Broadband Commission recommends the establishment of uniform quality assurance standards for second-hand smartphones and harmonized regulations for imports of electronic waste. She argues that this would make it much easier to buy and distribute second-hand devices, protect customers and begin tackling the global e-waste challenge.

Another important point that will support universal access to smartphones in Africa is the development of recycling strategies for mid- and lower-level devices. “  The smartphone recycling ecosystem prioritizes higher-tier devices, such as iPhones and Samsung-branded phones, which are still too expensive for residents of low- and middle-income (LMIC) countries. Developing new strategies to generate trusted sources of mid-tier and lower-tier smartphones would improve the flow of devices at LMIC-friendly prices  ,” believe ITU and Unesco.

The smartphone, a development tool

Currently, the Universal Service Fund (USF) in Africa is used to improve telecom coverage. The Broadband Commission encourages governments to also direct it towards the availability of smartphones at affordable costs. Governments “  that do not have a USF can explore the use of subsidy programs, developed and implemented in consultation with industry and other stakeholders  ,” she advises.

Finally, reducing taxes and import duties on smartphones is essential. The Broadband Commission is certain that a balance of tax and customs policies can contribute to lowering the retail cost of smartphones in addition to stimulating higher levels of economic activity and general revenue by promoting exit from the black market to a more formal setting.

According to Rabab Fatima, the United Nations High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, ”  only 45% of adults in emerging economies currently own a smartphone, compared to 76 % in advanced economies. Women are also significantly less likely than men to own a smartphone and use mobile internet if they live in low- and middle-income countries  . 

The international civil servant who considers that ”  smartphones are not only consumer goods  “, but also ”  accelerators of learning, connection and economic activity  “, affirms ”  that with the cost of a smartphone exceeding 70 % of the average monthly income of people living in low- and middle-income countries, enabling access and use of the Internet must now become a political priority for the international community  ”.

Source: Agence Ecofin

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