As the Internet Society (ISOC) celebrates its 30th anniversary as a global nonprofit advocating for an open, globally-connected Internet, the organization is calling for accelerated action to further Internet development throughout the African region. During the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) 2022 taking place from in Kigali, Rwanda under the theme “Connecting the unconnected to achieve sustainable development”, Dawit Bekele, Regional Vice President of the Internet Society in Africa, lauded the progress made by stakeholders in expanding access throughout the continent, while encouraging more collaborative efforts to bridge the digital divide.
Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest growth in global Internet penetration, increasing from less than 1% in 2000 to 30% today. Between 2019 and 2021 Internet use in Africa jumped by 23%. Despite this impressive growth, there is still a coverage gap of over 840 million people who don’t have access to reliable and affordable Internet access.
“The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the value of Internet connectivity which has been an essential lifeline for the continuity of business, healthcare, education, government, and other critical activities. We applaud the significant investments in the last decades to develop Internet infrastructure, which have made the Internet available to more people across the continent. However, the pandemic also highlights the digital divide that remains, particularly in rural, remote and even urban areas around the world,” said Dawit Bekele.
In Kenya specifically, the rapid pace of Internet ecosystem development since 2012 underscores the critical role that Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) and the accompanying infrastructure play in the establishment of strong and sustainable Internet ecosystems. The Internet Society has conducted technical capacity training on Internet routing technologies for network operators in Kenya and supported the development of community networks including TunapandaNET in Kibera, AHERI in Kisumu, and Lanet-Umoja in Nakuru.
It’s through such initiatives and collaboration from the government that has propelled an increase of the number of internet users from 0.4% in 2012 to 41.9% of the population in 2020 with nearly 70% of traffic localized. Localizing Internet traffic has led to significant cost savings for participating networks and puts the country in a strong position to participate in the digital economy.
Community networks are a way to help address the digital divide. They are communications infrastructures built, managed, and used by local communities and are a sustainable solution to address connectivity gaps in underserved regions. The Internet Society has a long history of working with communities worldwide to fund, build and train people with the skills needed to run and maintain community networks.
In Africa, the Internet Society has helped build community networks in South Africa, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Namibia, Morocco, Senegal, and Ethiopia.
At WTDC, the organization will be making a pledge to support 100 complementary solutions to connect the unconnected, and to train 10,000 people to build and maintain Internet infrastructure, all by 2025 as part of the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition, an initiative led by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) that aims to foster meaningful connectivity and digital transformation in the hardest-to-connect communities around the world.
Also vital to expanding the Internet throughout Africa is the interconnection between local networks, content providers, and users. Currently, millions of dollars are spent every year to route local Internet traffic through expensive international links. This not only makes the Internet slower and more costly for Internet users, but it also limits the kinds of applications that can run on the local Internet. For this reason, the Internet Society has been at the forefront of supporting the establishment and growth of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) that enable and encourage local traffic.
ISOC research shows that IXPs improve the end-user experience, lower the cost of access, and stimulate the development of local Internet ecosystems and cross-border interconnections. By improving local Internet services and reducing their costs, well-managed IXPs open new worlds of possibility with modest investment.