ITU finds cost no longer the top barrier to service access

19 May 2020 | Melanie Mingas


Technological literacy and a lack of relevant content are muting global internet penetration rates, despite the cost of services reducing across the board.

The findings, published by ITU in its report Measuring Digital Development: ICT Price Trends 2019, were based on analysis and comparison of price data for mobile-voice services, mobile data and fixed broadband, which ITU said are “decreasing steadily around the world”. Evidencing the results, ITU said mobile data alone demonstrated a -15% CAGR over the last six years.

Despite this internet penetration has not increased, with ITU concluding that level of education, lack of relevant content, lack of content in local languages, lack of digital skills, and a low-quality internet connection are all equally important for access.

“Keeping telecommunication and digital services as affordable as possible has always been important to ensure broader Internet uptake, especially for lower-income households and consumers,” said Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General (pictured).

“In the face of Covid-19, this is more vital than ever. People who do not have access to the internet may not be able to access information about how to protect themselves from coronavirus, telework, learn remotely and connect with families and friends during quarantine,” Zhao added.


Quantifying just how much costs have fallen, ITU reported that an entry-level mobile-voice basket remained “broadly affordable in most countries”. In 70, a low-usage mobile-voice plan was available for less than 1% of gross national income (GNI) per capita, and in a further 37 countries it stood below 2%.

“Although causality is difficult to prove, price reductions have undoubtedly helped contribute to the rapid rise in the mobile-voice penetration rate, alongside growing competition and better price monitoring and evaluation by regulators,” the report read.

On mobile-data packages prices decreased from 2013 to 2019 relative to gross national income (GNI) per capita. Specifically, the global average price of a 1.5 GB mobile-data basket declined from 8.4% of GNI per capita in 2013 to 3.2% in 2019, at a compound annual growth rate of almost -15%.

In US dollars, the global average price of a mobile-data basket of at least 1.5 GB dropped by 7% on average annually between 2013 and 2019.

Over the past four years, the affordability of fixed broadband has not changed substantially, but value has increased as advertised download speeds improved.

“The Covid-19 crisis has clearly shown us that nobody is safe until we are all safe. By the same token, we will not be able to use the full potential of digital technologies until we are all connected,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director, ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau.

“To connect all, we need to address all factors that may prevent meaningful connectivity,” Bogdan-Martin added,