More than two billion people in emerging and developing countries worldwide cannot access the internet due to high costs of connectivity, new research by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) has found.

According to A4AI’s annual Affordability Report, released today at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, across 51 developing countries surveyed for the report, the average cost of broadband internet for an individual is 40 per cent of their monthly income – much higher than the 5 per cent target set out by the UN Broadband Commission.

The average cost of mobile connectivity is lower, although still double the target threshold, at 10 per cent of an individual’s monthly income.

Based on these figures, A4AI finds that over two billion people worldwide are priced out of internet connectivity

“In the 21st century, inability to pay should not deny anyone access to the Internet. Universal broadband can easily become a reality if leaders commit to ending anti-competitive policies that keep prices artificially high, prioritising more well-planned infrastructure investment, and expanding public access programmes to ensure the poorest are not left behind,” said A4AI executive director Sonia Jorge.

According to the Affordability Report, women and rural populations face the highest barriers to internet access; income disparities and social norms affecting the former in particular, with infrastructural challenges added for the latter group. These challenges increase the cost of internet access for these groups, and serve to further marginalise and exclude them from connectivity.

The research highlights five points for action, which when developed concurrently will serve as a roadmap to address the internet affordability issues faced by developing countries. First, A4AI recommends the development of an effective National Broadband Plan; followed by the creation an environment which promotes enhanced competition. Strategies which permit efficient spectrum allocation are named as the third prerequisite; while the fourth recommendation is to put in place models designed to encourage or mandate infrastructure sharing. Finally, A4AI advocates widespread public access through libraries, schools, and other community venues.

“Unnecessarily high prices, in tandem with a failure to expand public access, are still conspiring to bar billions from accessing the life changing potential of the Web. Those most in need of upliftment — women, rural populations and those living in poverty — are hit the hardest,” Jorge said.

“The good news is that a clear roadmap to progress has emerged. Global experience has delivered a set of policies and principles which — when implemented in an integrated fashion and combined with strong leadership — can deliver real change, fast. We urge policy makers in all countries to follow these recommendations.”

Latin America accounts for six of the top 10 affordability rankings, with the report saying the region leads the way in policy reforms aimed at lowering connectivity costs.

Among developing countries – defined by the World Bank as low to lower-middle income countries – the top five ranked countries for internet affordability were Rwanda, Nigeria, Morocco, Uganda and Kenya – although none of these came into the global top 10.