Beyond Access: Addressing Digital Inequality in Africa

"Although most Africans remain disconnected from the Internet, and access to broadband services continues to be a central policy issue, the increased availability of broadband services alone will not reduce digital inequality on the continent. While the provision of access to the Internet remains a key public policy issue — as a necessary condition of digital participation in the economy and society — it is insufficient.This paper argues broadband can no longer be seen as a supply-side infrastructural issue alone. Nor can public policy have a narrow sectoral focus any longer, with information and communication technologies (ICTs) cutting across public-private and formal-informal sectors alike. Demand stimulation measures — such as the reduction of prices to make services more affordable, the development of relevant local content and applications, the enhancement of citizens’ e-literacy and national skills development plans — are the focus areas of this paper. It examines alternative policy and regulatory interventions to so-called “international best practice” — assuming in the process certain political and economic conditions, by recognizing the institutional and resource constraints that generally exist in African countries — and proposes multiple strategies across the ICT ecosystem that could result in more inclusive digital development."