When I was active on social networks, I often had the impulse to respond to any “absurd” message that came to me on social networks. It didn’t matter that I could eventually persuade the person writing the “absurd” post to see it that way, or that no one else cared about the post or was swayed by my reaction. Later, I was able to realize that I was unwittingly drawn into a game, to satiate the need for attention in a context where attention has become trivialized by social media entrepreneurs who have made it a currency for the most part. users. I realized that much of the conversation in social media is in no way an affirmation of the usefulness of social media, it’s not even the useful use of social media. Is there such meaningful use of social media? After all, “useful” in this quicksand of relativism of post-modernist thought, is just one point of view, not meaning the same thing to different people.
There’s a soul-searching that actually takes place on a much broader level that asks the question of meaningful digital access in general: what does it mean to talk about meaningful internet access? This question arises at different levels such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Is connectivity an end or a means to an end? If it is a means as the overwhelming position is, then questioning the quality of that access is equally critical. Or even more, like access itself.
You are therefore right to think that we are already in the era of the aftermath, where access itself must be problematized. Yes, in Nigeria, as in many African and developing countries, there are millions if not billions who are not connected or do not have access to the internet. In the specific case of Nigeria, we are told that an estimated 35-50% of Nigerians do not have access to the internet, depending on what is measured as access or who is doing the measurement. But even if we take the lower figure, that translates to around 70 million Nigerians without internet access, a very large number of our fellow citizens.
But even among those who have access to it, we must think of those who can use the Internet to exploit its full potential and those who have only a bare pipe that lacks content as in zero-rated Internet or has no capacity like those using feature phones. . Two things determine whether you have potentially useful productive access to the Internet or not. One is the level of technology that provides your connectivity. Generally, useful Internet access begins with 3G. If your mobile access is 2G, then you are not there. According to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), 3G covered about 89% of the country, with the rest covered by 2G only. Those without connectivity are classified as underserved or unserved and are grouped into 114 clusters with a population of nearly 30 million people.
The second factor is the type of access device you have. Generally, you need a laptop or a desktop computer. The smartphone is useful but not only does it limit you but it also limits your speed as well as the features of a desktop or laptop that are not available in a smartphone. The proportion of Nigerians with access to a desktop/laptop computer is estimated to be around 45%, while those with a smartphone according to Statistica are between 25 and 40 million. Since most people who have access to a desktop/laptop computer are also people who have smartphones, this means that Nigerians who have the right access device for meaningful internet are unlikely to reach 100 million or half the population.
Now, we have only discussed the prerequisites for meaningful connectivity. The The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) has identified four factors that define meaningful connectivity. These are first the good speed. Speedy depends on the generation of technology you have. Although 3G is the minimum limit, both within the International Telecommunication Union, the Internet Society, the Global Internet Governance Forum and A4AI and within the World Union digital cooperation, the minimum acceptable speed for meaningful connectivity is 4G. Here is what the National Broadband Plan says about 4G coverage in Nigeria:In particular, 4G coverage is only available in major cities and state capitals with less than 40% population coverage in Q4 2019.” In other words, according to the government’s assessment, only about 80 million Nigerians potentially have access to meaningful connectivity.
The second factor is what A4AI calls “a proper device” which must be either a desktop/laptop computer or a smartphone. Again, while the smartphone enables many things to be done with the internet, it limits the number of Nigerians who potentially have meaningful connectivity, as seen in the current penetration of desktop/laptop and smartphone computers in the country.
The third is fact is access to reasonably thenough data, which means that the data should not limit the user’s ability to connect to the Internet. Here affordability is involved. Affordability is defined as the threshold where the cost of data should not be a barrier to meeting other important needs, for example food, education or housing, and generally it should not exceed 5 % of user’s monthly income, in a county where more than 60% of citizens live below the $1 per day poverty line, the cost of data is not sustainable for meaningful connectivity. Here’s what a government document, the National Broadband Plan says about affordability: “The challenge with this affordability benchmark in the Nigerian context is that, given the large income disparities, the median monthly income of N19,460 ($54) is well below the average income level of N60,000 ($167 ) per month. Thus, internet packages at these price levels remain largely unaffordable for the majority of Nigerians”
Finally, the fourth is frequent login which is indicated by the ability of the user to be constantly logged in at will or not to have to log in as often. If every time you use the Internet you have to connect, it may take time and you will lose the speed element, you might even be discouraged from using the Internet, especially if there is no certainty that you connect in a few moments. The United Nations has also declared that internet access is a human right and that this right is available at all times.
While these elements identified by A4AI define the technical dimension of meaningful connectivity, there is a social dimension, which is what access facilitates for the user. Meaningful connectivity should allow the user to use the Internet to access educational content or opportunities, better health care, access to governance and its services, carrying out activities and business and commercial transactions. In other words, it is not about using social media to greet friends or to engage in simple conversations that add value to those aspects that affect people’s existential living conditions.
Of the approximately 100 million Nigerians who use the internet today in the country: how many of them use it to access educational opportunities or content? How many of them use to access medical services or advice and how many have their livelihoods dependent on or enhanced by the use of the internet? The answers to these questions will determine the extent to which we can say that we have meaningful connectivity in the country.
Are there things the government can do to improve meaningful connectivity in the country? Yes a lot. The first is that it should accelerate the implementation of the National Broadband Plan to drive in such a way that it promotes digital inclusion. This should include rolling out the Community Networks policy for the country. Second, it should support local production initiatives of access devices such as laptops and smartphones in the country. Currently, there is a huge disparity in smartphone prices with countries importing devices paying up to five times the prices paid in producing countries. For a country like Nigeria, there is an additional challenge caused by the ever-increasing value of the national currency.
Third, it should deepen efforts to ensure universal digital literacy in the country. The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) is striving to achieve 95% digital literacy in the country by 2025. While this is commendable, the pace at which this is happening does not guarantee that we will achieve the goal. Much more needs to be done and more stakeholders such as state governments need to join in the effort.
Fourth, the government must link access to key development issues such as improving access to education, health services, business opportunities, etc. Finally, we need to promote a more nuanced understanding of digital technology and its capabilities beyond the simple use of social media. Social media is an important component of using digital, but it’s only one. Even so, we need to educate people to make the most of social media and not spend their hours bickering over little things or just craving likes and retweets that someone will smile at the banks at their costs.