A week ago, a Twitter user put up a tweet detailing how a foreign employer said they couldn't employ them because of the slow internet speed in Nigeria.
It seemed implausible, and there were arguments about whether it was discriminatory or even true. Data, however, might support it; African countries have some of the slowest internet speeds.
In 2020, the average download speed globally for mobile internet and fixed broadband were 34.82 Mbps and 84.33 Mbps respectively, while the average upload speeds were 10.99 Mbps and 44.1 Mbps respectively.
No African country made the top 30 or top 50 countries with fast internet in 2020. Madagascar was 77th (18.00 Mbps), while South Africa was 97th (14.4 Mbps). Meanwhile, 5 African countries made the bottom ten - Sudan (1.35 Mbps), Somalia (1.14 Mbps), Ethiopia (1.12 Mbps), and Equatorial Guinea (0.75 Mbps). South Sudan (0.58 Mbps) was the last.
In countries like Ethiopia, the reasons are obvious. The country of 117 million people has only one internet provider and it is run by the state. It's a different story in South Sudan where there are at least 15 ISPs for its 11.3 million people. Although its ISPs are less burdened, South Sudan’s internet is slower than Ethiopia’s.
South Sudan is a landlocked country so it has a geographical disadvantage. This means internet cables have to pass over or through large areas of land instead of underwater which offers much better internet quality.
Apart from slow internet hindering people seeking work opportunities abroad, it could also impede digital development. For instance, it is estimated that digital health services will save over a million lives by 2025. This hinges on internet availability as well as reliability.
A 2011 research showed that doubling broadband speed increases the GDP of an economy by 0.3%. A report by the World Bank and IFC also shows that GDP increases by 1.3% for every 10% increase in high-speed internet.
As of 2020, only 33 African countries had national broadband plans. Although the private sector has championed some of the most successful broadband initiatives, it is important that governments put effective and supportive regulation in place.
This is so that private agencies don't try to recoup their investment by monopolising the sector or focusing on a certain cadre of citizens and neglecting the greater percentage.
African governments need to prioritize broadband penetration and create enabling policies given its massive economic benefits.
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