Statement of Principles
Affordable Access to Bandwidth for Higher Education Institutions in sub-Saharan Africa
Affordable internet bandwidth is crucial for the future of higher education and development generally in Africa. The links between university research and national economic development have been well established, with universities providing the basic enabling research, technology innovation, and skilled personnel required by the private sector. The report of the Commission for Africa, for example, recommends that to increase economic development, investment should focus on building capacity in Africa, beginning with the system of higher education.
The total amount of bandwidth available to the average African university is approximately that of a single home user with ADSL or cable in North America and Europe. African researchers have been excluded from international research networks that require member countries to have a minimum level of internet connectivity, and are frequently unable to access large datasets, collaborate effectively with partners within and outside the continent, and download the latest research journals. This meager bandwidth comes at a high price: A recent survey found that African universities are paying on average of $4.58/kbps/month, compared to $0.27/kbps/month paid by Northern universities. While acutely felt in the higher education sector, poor access to bandwidth in Africa also stymies growth in many other areas, including healthcare, business development, and trade and commerce.
In light of these considerations, we hereby affirm our commitment to the following principles regarding African nations' access to international bandwidth.
- Affordable access to bandwidth is fundamental to strengthening African institutions of Higher Education and to African development.
- Until regulatory and market reforms have brought down the price of bandwidth, subsidies, discount schemes, and bandwidth aggregation should be used to bring affordable bandwidth to African higher education institutions. National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) and coalitions like the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa-supported Bandwidth Consortium have emerged to address this need, but these efforts only begin to address demand for bandwidth in Africa.
- Monopoly or oligopoly control of international internet access points leads to artificially high prices and enriches the state-owned telecom or private monopoly while hampering business competition and crippling universities; it can be seen as a transfer of money from the social, education, and business sectors to the incumbent monopoly telecom provider. Taking the long-term view, we believe that the value of affordable bandwidth in terms of the research, health outcomes, and business growth will greatly outstrip any short-term benefit extracted today through monopoly rent.
- Regulatory bodies have a crucial role to play in fostering competition and open access to bandwidth in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Support for infrastructure projects by donors should be conditional on guarantees of open access, i.e., the right to resell bandwidth must be open and competitive.