Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), the global organization fighting for universal affordability and accessibility of the internet is set to introduce new standards for measuring what constitutes meaningful internet connectivity in all regions of the world.
In a write up on its website, A4AI noted that it is not enough for people to have internet connectivity in are community, when several factors prevent them from accessing the internet to meet their specific needs.
A4AI noted that the standards have become necessary because “over half of the world is now online, but many people lack the quality of access they need to use the internet’s most powerful features, such as online learning, video streaming and telehealth.”
It therefore insisted that “It’s time to raise the bar for internet access and aim for meaningful connectivity for everyone.”
A4AI is already working with International Telecommunications Union and other global organizations to provide affordable internet for some 3.6 billion people in the world who are offline because they simply cannot afford to be on line.
They have in earlier submissions noted that out of the 3.6 billion offline, about 2.5 billion of them in 70 country would have to spend at least a quarter of their monthly income to acquire the cheapest smartphone that can give them access to the internet, even if there is connectivity in their area.
A4AI is therefore pushing to ensure that not only should internet connectivity be made available to the deprived, but measures should also be put in place to ensure they are able to access it and indeed benefit fully from the most powerful features of the internet as well.
It said, to achieve this, there is the need for standards that ensure availability of appropriate devices, enough data for the deprived, and fast connection everywhere.
“We benefit most from the internet when we can use it regularly. As our societies grow more digital and the internet is integrated into our daily lives, connecting occasionally is not enough. Daily access to the internet is the minimum we need to see real benefits for work, education and communication,” it insist.
On the issued of appropriate device, A4AI said the only way to ensure that people experience the full power of the internet, there is the need to provide the right device for the task at hand.
“A smartphone gives us the functionality to create and consume content in a way that basic phones don’t — and the portability to use the internet anywhere.”
It also argued that it is not fair that while some people have unlimited data packages, others experience severe data scarcity, preventing them from doing certain online tasks or forcing them to wait until they can connect to public Wi-Fi.
“An unlimited broadband connection at home, or place of work or study gives us reliable internet access in our daily lives to use the full breadth of the internet’s potential,” it insists.
“Our internet speeds make or break our online experience. We all know the frustration of a buffering movie or an unstable video call. And without fast speeds, services like telehealth are a non-starter. 4G mobile connection is the minimum threshold that can give us the speeds we need for the experience we want,” A4AI added.
Internet access measurement
It noted that currently, there is no distinction made between someone who checks an email account once a week and a super-user running their business online, saying that by bundling everyone together, “we mask the true nature of the digital divide — which lies not only between the connected and the unconnected, but in the starkly varied online experience people have.”
“It is no longer sufficient to simply consider how many people are online. To improve internet access and tackle the digital divide, our policy goals must adapt to consider the quality of connectivity available to all,” A4AI demanded.
According to them, the foregoing Meaningful Connectivity Standard (MCS) is a framework to track the components of connectivity that matter most to users and help decision makers adopt the policies needed to connect people to an internet that is useful and empowering.
A4AI said it is focused on building broad consensus among international bodies, national governments, civil society and the private sector to adopt the MCS standard and use it as the basis for raising the bar for internet access.
It said the standards were designed not to prescribe expectations about where each country should be on their journey to meaningful connectivity, but rather to help governments set effective broadband policy targets and track progress over time.
“We’ll soon publish a policy guide with direction on how to measure progress across the four target areas and recommendations for policy actions to drive progress. Meanwhile, we’re working with governments and partners to develop context specific strategies to make progress towards meaningful connectivity at the national level,” it said.