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GSMA and World Bank partner to boost handset affordability

By , ITWeb
Africa , 10 Jul 2024
According to the coalition, handset affordability is often recognised as the most significant barrier to get people online.
According to the coalition, handset affordability is often recognised as the most significant barrier to get people online.

The GSMA, the World Bank, and other global institutions today unveiled a new coalition to increase handset affordability for low-income people.

The new alliance will consider a variety of strategies to minimize the cost of entrance into the digital economy for these communities.

In a statement, the group stated that Africans are particularly affected by issues such as the expensive cost of phones (30% of monthly income) with 3G and 4G capabilities, which impedes access to key services and economic possibilities, widening the digital gap.

The consortium stated that if smartphones were priced about $20, an extra 270 million Africans would be able to purchase them, possibly closing the usage gap by 23%.

Members of the coalition include major global mobile operators, vendors, device ecosystem stakeholders, international organisations, and funding institutions such as the World Bank Group, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and the WEF Edison Alliance.

The coalition will work together to enhance access to cheap internet-enabled devices in order to reduce the 'Usage Gap', which prevents about three billion individuals around the world from reaching their full potential in the global digital economy.

Mobile remains the major - and often only - way for people in Low- and Middle-Income Countries to access the internet, accounting for 84% of broadband connections in 2023, according to the group.

However, it said three billion people, or 38% of the world's population, reside in locations where mobile internet is available but do not use it due to constraints such as digital literacy and skills, a lack of relevant content, online safety, and accessibility.

According to the coalition, handset affordability is often recognised as the most significant barrier to get people online.

The new coalition said it will assess multiple ‘levers’ to reduce the cost of entry into the digital economy for low-income populations, with particular focus on LMICs and areas where handset affordability presents the highest barrier to getting online, such as in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

By exploring new solutions including ‘de-risking’ financing mechanisms, with the support of the World Bank Group, the coalition said it will enhance and complement ongoing efforts to expand digital access and affordability.

Going forward, the GSMA will continue to facilitate close collaboration between coalition members to share learnings, and deploy tailored innovative models that can effectively narrow the usage gap.

Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, said: “Mobile has helped billions of people worldwide to play an active role in our increasingly digital world, but the cost of entry can still be too high for many on low incomes. Together with global mobile operators, and the support of the World Bank Group and other key coalition members, we’re determined to act on this issue.

“By building creative solutions to bring mobile internet into the hands of those who need it the most, we believe we can make real strides towards closing the Usage Gap and help millions more maximise their potential by getting online.”

For Guangzhe Chen, vice president for infrastructure from the World Bank, making internet connected devices more affordable is critical to accelerating digitalization in developing countries and ensuring no one is left behind.

“We’ve seen the power of digital technologies to unlock growth and job creation and to ease access to education and health services, but people must first be connected to make this a reality. This coalition brings together key players across industry and the development community to help bring this aspiration to life,” he said.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, secretary general of the ITU added: “In an age of unimaginable digital opportunities, devices are still out of reach for too many. With the 2025 Broadband Commission affordability target on the horizon, this new global coalition is an excellent complement to the work of the Commission’s Working Group on Smartphone Access. It has the power to accelerate affordability and bring us one step closer to universal meaningful connectivity, a cornerstone of ITU’s mission and our digital future.” 

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