From Nicaragua to Zambia, a basic 1 gig/month connection is too expensive for as much as half the population. In Vietnam and Pakistan, 1 gig costs less than 2% of the average monthly income, the A4AI goal for affordability. (Green on the map.) In Nicaragua, a comparable figure is 8% (Orange); in Zambia, 12% (Purple.)
In every country, many are far below the average income. Inequality is high in many of these countries, far above the European level (31 Gini coefficient) although closer to America. (Gini coefficient 45.)
The figures are not comprehensive. The data, from the Alliance for Affordable Internet, are based on a single datapoint in each country, "The cheapest plan providing at least 1GB of broadband data over a 30-day period from the largest mobile network operator in each country." They often are not representative but are a good starting point. They will often represent a temporary price fluctuation for competitive reasons. For example, I doubt Jamaica would show prices tripling from 2015 to 2016 with a better measure.
In many places, things have changed since the data was collected in 2016. Reliance Jio has driven Indian prices down by half since then. The Chinese figure, 2.9%, is probably an artifact, based on what I know of the Chinese offerings.
Reducing High Internet Access Costs
The cost of delivering wireless data is going down 40% in developed countries, Verizon estimates. So it's not a surprise many of these prices have come down. That's what you'd expect anywhere competition is working and costs coming down. (Exception: Distortions due to marketing campaigns.)
Factors beyond competition affect prices outside the developed world. The most important international problem is high backhaul/transit costs, which are often cartel-like. At least since 2012, the Africans in particular have been urging the ITU to take action and for governments to band together for negotiating power. This has been blocked repeatedly by the Americans and allies, shamefully.
There are also domestic issues of taxation, direct & through national carriers. This is a structural problem in many countries. The informal economy is often large and very difficult to tax. It's much easier to tax telecom networks, which often become a key part of the government income. While high telecom prices are not good, neither is closing schools and hospitals. (Of course governments waste money and may be corrupt. But unless you have a solution to that problem, it doesn't belong in this discussion.)
In particular, a choice like this should be made domestically. It's offensive for people and organizations in rich countries to tell poor countries what to do, unless they have particular expertise. It implies that receiver of the advice knows less than the giver. It's nearly always true that the people on the ground know more about the networks and taxes than "policy" people thousands of miles away. As a member of a U.S. State Department advisory committee, I can confirm U.S. State does not have expertise on subjects like this.
A technically informed suggestion that Massive MIMO is the best way to increase capacity is respected. Stanford Professor and Marconi Prize winner A.J. Paulraj told me Massive MIMO would be the best choice in a few years. All three major Indian networks came to the same conclusion in 2017 and I've often discussed that with Africans.
In addition, the incidence of taxes and subsidies always needs to be considered but is usually ignored. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin eliminated the USF fee (about $2) on broadband, hoping to raise adoption. AT&T and Verizon immediately raised their prices by about $2. All the benefit of the tax change would go to the companies.
In the U.S., where I'm close to the data, I can estimate about 2/3's of tax or subsidy changes goes to the company bottom line, not increased investment or lower prices, unless the program is very carefully designed. $Billions in our broadband stimulus were wasted and so is a horrifying share of universal service funds.
One gig barely allows a couple of hours of video so a real minimum should be higher.
Thanks to the person on the A4AI mailing list who pointed me to the data and A4AI for gathering it.
The public safety communications project known as FirstNet has been criticized — even by some of the officials closely involved with it — as being shrouded in too much secrecy.
Now the leak of two consultants’ reviews of plans for the public safety broadband buildout has state officials and corporate lawyers scrambling to find the leaker and demand that the recipient of the leak return copies and not disseminate them further.
The reviews were aimed at advising Gov. Phil Scott whether to opt in or out of the plan to improve public safety communications that is being spearheaded by FirstNet, a program of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the telecom giant AT&T. Scott announced Nov. 29 he had decided to opt in. Last week New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced his state would be taking the opposite course.
State officials and a lawyer for AT&T argue that the redacted materials encompass trade secrets and are proprietary and exempt from disclosure under Vermont’s Public Records Act. State Auditor Doug Hoffer questioned the exemption in an email. And a review of the redacted and unredacted reports by VTDigger indicates that at least some of the areas blacked out are not likely to be competitively sensitive but could cast the FirstNet-AT&T plan in a negative light.
One criticism of the FirstNet-AT&T plan is that Vermont could not seek redress from AT&T if it failed to deliver a robust public safety network that could withstand weather or other disasters. The contract describing the plan, which is secret even from state officials signing their states up to participate for the next 25 years, is between FirstNet and AT&T. If Vermont were dissatisfied with AT&T’s performance, its only recourse would be to complain to FirstNet, officials have said.
The issue of the ability of the network to withstand a disaster was raised in tiny print in a table that was blacked out in the redacted version of the report available for public view. VTDigger viewed the unredacted version with a magnifier, and it said there is no “documented disaster plan” or plan for escalating responses up the chain of command.
“Without a documented disaster plan and especially an escalation plan for outages, the state will be exposed to non-availability without authority to properly manage the vendor,” the fine print in the report reads.
The extraordinary battle over the documents began Nov. 29, at a meeting of the House Energy and Technology Committee. Stephen Whitaker, a frequent critic of Vermont’s telecommunications development efforts who has been trying to scuttle the state’s current FirstNet plan, approached the committee and tried to hand its chairman, Rep. Stephen Carr, an unredacted copy of the consultant’s report that he said he had obtained from a confidential source.
John Quinn, the state’s chief information officer and secretary of the Agency of Digital Services, objected, warning that the unredacted report contained trade secrets of AT&T. Quinn said releasing the report would put the state at risk of a lawsuit by AT&T.
Carr, a Democrat from Brandon, then refused to take the copy of the report Whitaker tried to hand him.
Five days later, on Monday, Quinn sent an email to several state officials, including members of the Public Safety Broadband Commission, a special 12-member panel that had been reviewing the FirstNet project and recommended Nov. 20 that Vermont opt in, rather than working to create its own public safety communications network with federal support. The email was obtained by VTDigger.
“This email is to address the recent leak of a(n) unredacted copy of an independent review (IR) on the FirstNet decision to Stephen Whitaker,” Quinn wrote. “The release puts the state at risk of a lawsuit with financial (consequences). You are in this email because you are one of just a few people to have received a copy of the report.”
Quinn then admonished the leaker, demanded the person step forward and said the attorney general’s office, which frequently investigates and prosecutes criminal behavior, would be involved in the response.
“It is not up to any of you to decide what is released and what is not,” Quinn wrote. He added that Broadband Commission Chairman Terry LaValley “was very clear that the report was not public and the specific reasons that the IR (independent review) was withheld. … If you were the one who turned over a copy of the report, I would appreciate an email letting me know. We can work with the AG’s office on the circumstances of why you released the IR.”
Quinn’s message also contained an unusual element of transparency jiujitsu. The Vermont Public Records Act most often is used by members of the media and public who want information on government activities so they can cast a critical eye on them. In this case, Quinn said he expected the law to be used to shut down the flow of information by exposing the whistleblower.
“I fully expect a public records request of all commission members and members with access to the report, to turn over any communication between commission members and Stephen Whitaker,” Quinn wrote. “You are all subject to the records law as a commission member.”
Quinn said Friday the whistleblower’s identity remained undetermined. He said “each person on the email (recipient list) wrote back and assured me that it wasn’t them. No one came forward.”
Quinn’s Monday email was followed two days later by a letter to Whitaker from Vermont’s largest corporate law firm, Downs Rachlin Martin. Attorney William Dodge, representing AT&T, wrote that “we have learned you are in possession of an unredacted report commissioned by the Vermont Agency of Digital Services … regarding FirstNet.”
“Legally you should not be in possession of, or use, this information without permission from AT&T, which has not been granted,” Dodge wrote. “We are concerned that you may disclose (if you have not already done so) the unredacted report to the media, including VTDigger. In light of the trade secret and proprietary information contained in the unredacted report, we insist that you immediately take the following steps:”
The steps included making no more use of the report, destroying any copies and refraining from disclosing any information from the report.
Hoffer, the state auditor, responded to Quinn’s email with apparent annoyance.
“I can assure you, I did not share the document with Mr. Whitaker,” Hoffer replied to Quinn. “I know you’re just doing your job, but I’m disappointed that you felt it necessary to include me in this email because I deal with confidential data regularly and take that public trust very seriously.”
“BTW (by the way) — For the record, having read the report, I really don’t understand why it is deemed confidential at all, but that’s not my call,” Hoffer wrote.