Freedom of Media – Ethiopia continued…

A2: Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?

While price reductions in recent years have made mobile and fixed-line broadband internet services less prohibitively expensive for Ethiopians, prices are kept artificially high due to state-owned Ethio Telecom’s monopoly. Ethiopians have previously spent an average of $85 per month for limited mobile or fixed-line internet access. Better-quality services in neighboring Kenya and Uganda cost less than $30 a month. In May 2020, the Abiy government announced its decision to finalize the offering of a 40 percent stake in Ethio Telecom to private companies (see A4).

In February 2020, Ethio Telecom announced it would lower rates significantly for fixed-line broadband customers, reducing rates for residential customers by up to 65 percent; business customers saw rates fall by as much as 69 percent, while virtual private network (VPN) users saw a decline of up to 72 percent. A 1 Mbps residential connection that previously cost 978 birr ($31) per month cost 499 birr ($16) after the price cut, while 4-Mbps services that previously cost 3191 birr ($103) per month were made available for 699 birr ($23). Ethio Telecom also began offering 12-month payment plans for installation-related costs for clients situated over 500 meters from the provider’s nearest connection point.

Ethio Telecom has instituted price cuts in recent years. For example, in April 2020, Ethio Telecom introduced special rates to incentivizes people to stay indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, which included data packages of 100 MB for five birr ($0.11) and 250 MB for 10 birr ($0.23). In August 2018, the provider introduced a new pricing structure, stating that it reduced rates by 43 percent for mobile internet service, 40 percent for voice calls, 43 percent for text messaging, and 54 percent for fixed-line broadband internet connections. During that time, Ethio Telecom advertised a 25 MB data plan for 3 birr ($0.09) a day, a reduction from the 7 birr reported during the 2017–18 coverage period. While the 25 MB package was made more affordable, its usefulness was still limited; a standard Google search uses up to 79 KB of data. Customers who loaded websites containing 1 GB of multimedia content under that pricing structure could have spent the equivalent of $9 per day.

Public internet access is reportedly becoming more common in major cities such as Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar, Mekele, Adama, Hawasa, and Dire Dawa, as internet service and Wi-Fi are freely available in public places such as hotels, regional universities, phone shops, and internet cafés. Telecommunications infrastructure is almost entirely absent from rural areas, where nearly 80 percent of the population resides. A handful of signal stations serve the entire country, resulting in network congestion and frequent disconnections. In smaller towns, users often hike to the top of the nearest hill to receive a stronger signal for their mobile devices. Ethio Telecom launched 4G service in parts of Oromia in February 2021, making high-speed mobile data accessible outside of Addis Ababa for the first time; as of June 2021, 4G service is available in 53 municipalities across the country.

Many Ethiopians rely on cybercafés, universities, and government offices for internet access. In rural areas and small towns, cybercafés are reportedly the most common means of accessing the internet. Cybercafé rates range from 7 to 10 birr ($0.18 to $0.26) for an hour of access. Rates in rural cybercafés tend to be higher. There have been some efforts to address the urban-rural divide and the gender gap in internet usage. In March 2019, Ethio Telecom announced that it would distribute mobile phones to women in rural areas. That July, it announced that it would provide mobile customers 1 GB of internet data and 20 minutes’ worth of local calling credits free of charge. The impact of such efforts is unclear. Ethiopia’s digital divide was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as in-person activities such as education were halted.

Source: Freedom House 


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