Unlike the expanded access to voice services, rates of access to the Internet are low and growing only slowly in Africa. High prices and limited availability are the key reasons, compounded by poor fixed-line access networks, limited access to the broadband radio spectrum, poor domestic backbone networks and limited use of computers.
One of the main drivers of the high cost of Internet (and of international voice calls) is the price of international connectivity, determined by physical access to submarine fibre-optic cables and the level of competition in the international market. Countries with access to submarine cables have lower international call prices than those without access. Nevertheless, countries that have competitive access have significantly lower prices than those retaining a gateway monopoly.
Backbone network infrastructure to carry communications traffic between fixed points in the networks is limited, thus constraining.
The development of broadband Internet is constrained by limited backbone network infrastructure. While mobile operators do not require high-capacity backbone networks (and have typically developed their own using wireless technologies) broadband Internet backbone networks need much greater capacity, typically using fibre-optic cables.
The broadband Internet available in most African countries is typically limited to major urban areas and to Internet cafes, businesses and high-income residential customers. Network coverage is limited, prices are high, and speeds are lower than in other regions of the world. This limited current level of service could be expanded to national coverage using wireless network infrastructure with the same technical and economic advantages as GSM voice networks. The investment to cover the entire population using limited performance wireless broadband technology has been estimated at approximately US$0.9 billion.
As long as the right competitive environment is established, the private sector could cover most of that amount, which could reach 89% of the population with this limited-reach broadband access. Only US$0.2 billion of public investment would be needed to reach the remaining 11% of the population.