Alliance For Affordable Internet Coalition Meeting

Today, I attended a Ghana Coalition meeting organised by Alliance For Affordable Internet (A4AI). The event was held at the AITI-KACE (Advance Information Technology Institute (Kofi Annan Center)

Just a little background: the Alliance for Affordable Internet is an initiative to make the Internet more affordable to people around the world. Some majors members of the coalition include Google, the United Nations Agency for Internet Development, Facebook and Microsoft. The alliance aims to increase the affordability of both mobile and fixed-line Internet access dramatically, with a focus on achieving a goal of “1 for 2” —no more than 2% of monthly income per capita for 1GB broadband connection.

Prior to today’s event, A4AI had held a Ghana forum and identified some priority issues which would need to be addressed to meet the aims of A4AI. Those priority issues were:

  • Taxation
  • Infrastructure Sharing and Open Access
  • Research and Data Collection
  • Consumer Awareness and Pricing Transparency

Different players from different industries including Kwaku Sakyi-Addo (Ghana Telecom Chamber), Estelle Akofio-Sowah (Country Manager, Google), Clara Pinkrah-Sam (eTransform Project) and Kafui Prebbie (TechAide) all helped contribute to researching and addressing each of the above issues. Today’s meeting was to showcase their work done and also present a summary of the recently released 2016-2017 Affordability Internet Report.

The event featured special invited guest, Hon. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, the Minister of Communication. My early impressions of the minister is that she seemed very down to earth and seemed to have a grasp on what’s going on in the industry. Granted, it’s a bit early to judge what she’s done so far. They do say actions always speak louder than good speeches. So we’ll leave it at that.

The minister gave opening remarks for the meeting and then had to head to parliament for her budget submission.

Insights, Research and Data

The National Communications Authority (NCA) appears to have been doing a lot of work behind the scenes when it comes to research and internet affordability. The NCA has been working on making internet information more available and more transparent for consumers. One of the ways they’re attempting to do that is with the use of Data Labels. Interestingly enough, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in America also proposed some sort of data label for ISPs and Telcos. These labels display information like ISP download speeds and price information. These labels would help address consumer problems like knowing how their data is consumed and the prices they would be paying.

American FCC Proposed Broadband Labels

The audience in attendance also got a snippet of a customer satisfaction survey which is yet to be released to the public. Highlights from the survey were as follows:

Out of 5200 households surveyed:

  • 70% of respondents are satisfied with internet service provided
  • 55% of respondents said the quality of internet was higher than expected (Majority of respondents were higher in urban areas than rural)
  • Females spend more time on the internet than males
  • Use of Over the Top (OTT) Services  – 60% of respondents stated they were getting value for money. (OTT services include Whatsapp and Skype)

Four groups (Taxation Working Group, Consumer Advocacy & Pricing Transparency Working Group, Infrastructure Sharing and Open Access group and Research and Data Collection) all conducted a small presentation on findings and their work done).

The Taxation Working Group during their presentation and highlighted some interesting facts.

It was interesting to hear that mobile devices are basically taxed about the same as alcohol and tobacco. That was certainly an eye opener to be honest. The group also noted that they had consultations with the new government about removing some taxes on importation of mobile devices and it looks like they made some leeway.

The next presentation was by the Infrastructure Sharing and Open Access group which was lead by Estelle Akofio-Sowah. They had done a number of consultations with various institutions such as NCA and Ministry of Communication. They advocated for sharing of infrastructure such as cell towers and other equipment. I was hoping for a little more light on Google’s Project Link. Perhaps at another forum, more information would be shared about the progress of that.

The Consumer Advocacy & Pricing Transparency Working Group basically presented what most people around knew: Transparency about how much data we buy and use is not as open as it should be. Secondly, consumers are never given notice or explanations about why their credit gets used up when their data bundles are exhausted. There’s a lot more advocacy to be done in this space, so it’s good to know that a group like this exists.

Lastly, a summary of the A4AI 2016-2017 Affordability Report was presented to the audience. This was presented by Onica N. Makwakwa (A4AI Africa Regional Coordinator) and Erica Penfold (Research Analyst, A4AI). The full report can be found here.

(FYI, Ghana is ranked 26th on the 2017 Affordability Drivers Index (ADI) Rankings. Nigeria is 13th. We totally need to change that)


Consumers Transparency Is Still A Big Deal

The event later had breakout sessions to further discuss the different priority points with the general audience. The Consumer Advocacy group seemed to resonate more with the audience because of issues pertaining to their telco services. One example that people seemed to be frustrated by was telcos making use of phone credit if a user’s data bundle was exhausted without getting prior notification. Another issue was getting unsolicited text messages from third parties to promote their services, especially when you didn’t opt in for those messages.

Overall, the event was pretty good. It was one of those events where the general public would not be aware of the behind the scenes work done by some of these industry players.

The notification you get on your phone after you’ve made a phone call, indicating how many minutes you used up? That was the work of the Consumer Advocacy Group.

The taxes that were placed on devices imported from outside the country that are going to be strapped? You can give some credit to the Taxation Group.

There’s still some work to do when it comes getting internet access in Ghana as well as getting affordable data. I for one think we pay a bit much for data. But the quality is pretty good when compared to other African countries. But there’s room for improvement.

We’ll see how Ghana fares in the 2018 A4AI report. Hopefully, we go up a notch.

The Alliance for Affordable Internet Internet Affordability Report for 2017 can be found here or on the A4AI website.

To access all the presentations for the Coalition Meeting, it will be available on the A4AI website