A. Obstacles to Access

A1: Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?

Despite marginal gains in access, Ethiopia remains one of the least connected countries in the world. However, Ethiopians in major urban areas have seen considerable gains in both internet and telephone connectivity during the coverage period, as part of a trend that began with the introduction of reforms in April 2018.

As of January 2021, Datareportal reports that 24 million people use the internet in Ethiopia, representing 20.6 percent of the total population. The 2.1 percent gain in internet penetration since 2020 may be attributed to increased reliance on internet services during the COVID-19 pandemic, with state-owned telecommunications company Ethio Telecom providing several packages targeting users who “stay at home.” Data from the International Telecommunication Union indicates that Ethiopia’s internet penetration rate stood at only 18.6 percent in 2017, compared with 15.4 percent in 2016. Internet penetration differs substantially between urban and rural areas (see A2).

Ethiopia’s electricity infrastructure is not totally reliable, and internet access was limited during the coverage period due to power outages. In February 2021, a high-voltage power line was attacked, causing a week-long power outage in Tigray that the government attributed to the TPLF. The Ethiopian government also enforced a month-long blackout in Tigray as the conflict escalated, exacerbating the effects of the connectivity disruption (see A3).

While internet speeds have increased with the expansion of fourth-generation (4G) services in Ethiopian cities, the country still fares poorly in global rankings. As of June 2021, Ethiopia was ranked 106th and 158th in Ookla’s SpeedTest global index for mobile and fixed-line broadband speeds, respectively. Ookla reported average mobile data download and upload speeds of 22.08 Mbps and 15.67 Mbps, respectively, and average fixed-line upload and download speeds of 14.09 Mbps and 8.62 Mbps. These figures represented an increase over test results seen in Addis Ababa in May 2018, which found an average download speed of 6.28 Mbps and an upload speed of 0.21 Mbps, along with a 150-millisecond latency. The speeds encountered in the 2018 test made it difficult for users to download even simple images. A test conducted by a Freedom House researcher in 2016 found that logging into an email account and opening a single message took several minutes at a standard cybercafé with broadband in Addis Ababa, and even longer in rural areas.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced most people to conduct business online, Ookla reported that mobile broadband speeds fell by 22 percent and fixed-line broadband speeds fell by 5 percent. According to the Digital 2021 report, there are 44.7 million mobile connections in Ethiopia capable of connecting to the internet as of January 2021.  In a bid to boost smartphone ownership, Ethio Telecom introduced installment and credit plans for prospective customers in March 2020. In September 2019, the World Bank announced a $300 million loan to support the expansion of high-quality internet services for Ethiopian individuals, businesses, and government users.

Source: Freedom House


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