3.5 Billion people globally are connected to the internet. That is 50% of the world population. Majority of the connected people are from the developed world. ITU estimates that 79.1% of the European, 65% of the Americans, 81% of the developed world, 41% of the developing world, and only 15.2% of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are connected to the internet in the year 2016. There is a significant difference between rest of the developing world and the LDCs. Afghanistan falls under the LDC category. An estimate of 5-7.5% of the population are online in Afghanistan. MCIT shows that 2.4 million people were online in Afghanistan in 2013. International organizations’ estimate about Afghanistan, however, seems pretty lower than that. Internetlivestats.com estimates 2.2 million people were connected in 2016.
No matter how accurate number we try to estimate, this number is low for a number of reasons. One of the significant reasons is the price of the internet that the citizens get in order to go online, whether through 3G/2G services or DSL.
Although government shows one Megabit per month speed internet price to be USD 35 in 2014 but that was never the case. Up until Nov 2016, the price of one Megabit per month internet price is 4000 Afghanis, which is equivalent to ~USD 61.
This discrepancy in price also puts in doubt the exaggerated number of individuals that are online.
The USD 61 is lower as compared to the earlier years but the important thing to keep in perspective is the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita of Afghans. World Bank estimates it to be USD 630 in the year 2015. Which means the cost of 1 mbps internet is way more (USD 732) than an individual’s income throughout the year. The cost of the internet for households and small businesses is 116% of GNI per capita. There are, however, 25 countries globally where the cost of the internet is less than 1% of GNI per capita.
So it will be safe to say that the price of the internet in Afghanistan is UNAFFORDABLE by any means to an average citizen.
There are five major categories of people that are hit the hardest by such pricing schemes, which in return greatly affects the economy of the country and the social wellbeing of these people.
- Students: This is the category of citizens who are most likely to use the internet for school work and communication. But they are also the group that pay their tuition fees and will not have enough time to work to make money. So certainly the group that would fall under the average GNI per capita and highly affected by the unaffordability factor of the internet pricing.
- Families run by Widows: in 2006, UN estimated 2 million widows in Afghanistan. These are the women who have lost their husbands to the 3 decades of conflict in the country. These mothers go through the hardship of trying to raise and educate their children. Certainly a category of citizens who cannot imagine opportunities of making money online, communicating with other family members from the comfort of their homes or enable their children to seek knowledge online.
- Physically impaired individuals: Accordingly to Accessibility Organization of Disabled Afghans (AODA) “There are around 3 million people living with various types of disability and half of them are in the working-age, but only limited number of these people has some kind of employment opportunities, while the majority of people with disabilities do not have access to job and employment in the present situation in Afghanistan. Around (100,000) people with disabilities are registered with the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs Martyrs and Disabled (MoLSAM&D) where they receive a monthly welfare stipend of 600-1500 Afs. (Approximately 26 USD/per month) per head as social security or pension allowance”. Although the government has not taken any initiative to remove barriers for less-enabled citizens to access the internet and make an inclusive and accessible society for all, the 5 telecom companies including the one operated by the government, Afghan Telecom, have not provided any discounted packages for this category of people.
- Families in rural areas and provinces: Internet service gets worse as you move out of Kabul and other major cities. Although 89% of the country has mobile coverage, however, there are limited number of cities and districts with 3G and broadband internet service. There has also been reports of blackout of telecom services in some provinces. According to Rural Poverty Portal, the government estimates 42% of the country’s population to be living below the national poverty line and poverty is severe in rural areas of the country.
- Small businesses: If small businesses are suffering by increasing taxes, increasing electricity bills, high rent, high license fees, and unreliable electricity, it is also greatly impacted by high cost, high downtime, no redundancy, filtered and shared internet service. Internet is considered as the essential component of a small business and its high cost certainly challenges the sustainability of these businesses and its employees.