A4AI Canvasses for Meaningful Internet Connectivity for All

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Sonia Jorge, Executive Director, A4AI
Sonia Jorge, Executive Director, A4AI

Sonia Jorge, A4AI Executive Director, explains how its new meaningful connectivity standard will help to raise the bar for internet access proves more critical than ever.

Sonia explained that: “The Covid-19 pandemic has galvanised the case for universal internet access like never before, generating widespread agreement that the internet is too important to leave anyone offline and renewing calls for expanded connectivity to be an absolute priority for policymakers.”

At the same time, she said, the crisis has underlined the huge digital divide that remains both globally, with vast swathes of the world still largely unconnected, and within countries, with marginalised groups — typically women, people on low-incomes and those in rural areas — disproportionately stranded without access in this time of critical need.

She pointed out that although this moment presents a major opportunity to accelerate progress to close the digital divide gaps, the job is, however, bigger than we might think and that’s because efforts to close the access gap today are centred on the gap between who’s online and the 46% of the world that still has zero internet access.

She noted that the current pandemic has made clear that basic internet access is not enough as the internet’s most useful features – video calling, streaming, education and health apps etc. – demand a high quality of internet connection. And although over half the world is now online, many people who are online still lack meaningful connectivity.

Sonia urged stated that we need to look beyond basic access and make sure people can use the full power of the internet in order to close the persistent digital divide in access and use and make transformative progress in global connectivity.

To achieve meaningful internet connectivity, she said there is need to raise the bar for internet access and do this, we need to rethink how we measure access and give policymakers tools to set broadband policies that can deliver the internet people need.

To address the issue, A4AI has created a new standard – meaningful connectivity – to define the dimensions of internet access that matter most to users and to help set new, more ambitious targets for connectivity.

The A4AI Executive Director contends that connecting more people to affordable internet remains critically important but that additionally when people get online, they should have meaningful connectivity.

She listed four key dimensions at the heart of meaningful internet connectivity standard which should be the focus of efforts to raise the bar for internet access as follows:

  • Regular internet use: minimum threshold: daily internet access
  • An appropriate device: minimum threshold: access to a smartphone
  • Enough data: minimum threshold: An unlimited broadband connection at home, or place of work or study
  • A fast connection: minimum threshold: 4G mobile connectivity

These proposed dimensions developed in consultation with A4AI members, partners and other experts, were informed by national surveys and in-depth focus groups with users. These dimensions are what users say are most relevant to having a meaningful online experience and they are outlined fully in A4AI meaningful connectivity paper.

Sonia pointed out that these four dimensions of meaningful connectivity are not targets but minimums that people need in order to see real benefits from internet connectivity. Noting that countries are at different stages in their digital development, she said rather than prescribe specific targets, these minimums provide a floor for governments to aim for urging policymakers use the framework to regularly evaluate their targets as they make progress on these dimensions of meaningful connectivity.

She said these minimum thresholds will need to evolve over time to meet the demands of the day and because technology evolves, so too do our needs and expectations. About 15 years ago, 3G was perfectly adequate, but today it does not provide the speeds people need to conduct basic digital tasks including, for example, learning online, speaking with family members, connecting with customers and participating in data-heavy telehealth consultations.

A4AI said it is focused on building broad consensus among international bodies, national governments, civil society and the private sector to adopt this standard and use it as the basis for raising the bar for internet access and therefore counts on all partners in the sector to embrace this ambitious effort and work together to ensure that internet access is an equalising force, rather than one that exacerbates inequality.

The organization plans to soon publish a policy guide with direction on how to measure progress across the four target areas and recommendations on the policy actions needed to drive progress.

It is also working with governments and partners to develop context-specific strategies to make progress towards meaningful connectivity at the national level.

This standard being the culmination of a number of months’ work, A4AI hopes it is only the beginning of years of effective and collaborative broadband policy-making and looks forward to working with its members and partners to develop policy pathways that lead to digital equality.

A4AI invites the public to read more about the meaningful connectivity standard online or download the PDF version and to contact it to learn more about how they can adopt and implement the standard.