Denizens of the developed, Western world may take cheap and easily accessible Internet service for granted—and according to recent International Telecommunications Union data, prices for communications services just keep dropping from year to year across the world. But that’s not the case everywhere. In some countries, Internet access still comes at a stiff price, for reasons ranging from choking regulations, issues of geography, and the curious mandates of the marketplace. Countries where a single government mandated telecom company seem to fare the worst, as a lack of competition accords the government the authority to set prices and keep careful tabs on use.
Here’s a non-comprehensive look at countries where Internet access comes at a premium – often disadvantaging the very people who could benefit most from its use.
Turkmenistan has a serious Internet problem. With only 2.2% of the population considered Internet users by the UN’s ITU statistics and exceptionally stringent controls on who gets online, this oil-rich but oppressive Central Asian country faces a serious tech deficit. Prices are part of the problem. Although no OECD data exists for Turkmenistan, newspaper reports indicate that prices for both home and business Internet connections are astronomical. Citizens must present a passport and submit to surveillance if they wish to use one of Turkmenistan’s few, tightly controlled Internet cafes—and pay $4 an hour to get online, a hefty fee for most. Home dial-up Internet connections—only legalized in 2008—are unobtainable for most, at TurkmenTelecom mandated rates of $42 to open an account at 45 Kbps, with a series of additional fees for continuing use. Want unlimited high speed browsing at 2,048 Kbps in Turkmenistan? Hope you have deep pockets: the service costs a hefty $6,281 a month. And there’s nowhere to go if you think that’s a smidgen too expensive: a single state-controlled ISP, TurkmenTelekom, provides legal Internet access—forcing all data through a central and easily controllable hub, and creating a lucrative government monopoly.
Mexico may be close to the USA, but that doesn’t mean Internet access comes cheaply. According to OECD data, Mexico has the dubious distinction of the highest posted Internet subscription rates and the slowest download speeds among the 34 nations on which it has data. According to Mexico’s Census and Geographic Agency, only 22.2 percent of Mexican households had an Internet connection circa 2010,while around 32.8% of Mexicans were considered Internet users. (The UN’s ITU reports 31%). Mexico’s neighbors to the North reported that 79.3 percent of the population were Internet users, according to the World Bank. (Mexico still beats southern neighbor Guatemala, however, where a paltry 10.5% are users, according to the World Bank). Despite high prices, Mexicans still seem to be flocking to the Internet in record numbers – a recent study (albeit a somewhat problematic one) found that the average Mexican Internet user now spends more time online than he or she does watching television. Telenovas and soccer best watch out.
Central African Republic (and elsewhere in Africa)
Africa has the lowest Internet penetration rates in the world, with only 5.7% of households equipped with a home connection according to the International Telecommunication Union. Not surprisingly, the few Africans who do manage to get online must pay dearly for the privilege—according to the ITU, fixed broadband Internet access cost almost three times the average African’s income in 2011. Although prices are dropping swiftly as Africa develops, lack of infrastructure and low incomes conspire to keep home connections out of reach for the vast majority of the population. And some countries are worse than others. According to a 2010 ITU report, the Central African Republic was the most expensive place surveyed for fixed line broadband connections, at more than 40 times the average citizen’s income. There is some hope for cheap African Internet access: mobile Internet penetration has increased by a massive 155.59% in Africa in a mere two years, and subscriptions continue to grow quickly.
USA (And its territories)
Slate.com recently released an excellent article on the most expensive Internet in the Americas - and perhaps unsurprisingly, people residing in the Pacific Islands territories must cough up much more than those of us who reside on the continent. Data indicated that American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands are especially afflicted by high prices. Geography is part of the story, but not all: as the researchers found, prices in Guam, a 100 miles from the Northern Marianas, are five times lower. Only half of Northern Marianas Internet users report having a home broadband connection: most cite high prices as the reason. Meanwhile, Internet speeds in nearish American Samoa are downright glacial, with home connections forced to resort to clunky 256 kilobits a second. And all that sloth doesn’t come cheap: businesses are forced to pay upwards of $175 a month for mediocre 768 kbps connections. The price of Internet access is also a problem in America’s poorest cities: look at impoverished New Orleans, where a toxic combination of destroyed post-Katrina infrastructure, corporate pressure, and government missteps have created a major metro with 40% to 60% broadband subscription rates, according to The Lens—whereas most metropolitan counties in the USA report rates of 60% to 80%.
51% youth unemployment and some of the most expensive broadband rates in Europe: 2012 is a horrible time to be young in Spain. According to the OECD, Spain has the dubious distinction of having the most expensive broadband entry price among member nations, if you take required line charges, such as a telephone or cable television service into account. If you don’t, it is the 7th most expensive. OECD data also indicates Spain is at the front of the pack in Europe when it comes to prices for Broadband access, taking a wide range of connection speeds into account—and unfortunately, Spanish download speeds are on the low end of the scale, too. Roughly 66.5% of Spaniards are considered regular Internet users according to World Bank figures—not great in comparison to cheaper France’s 77.5% usage rates, or 82.5% rates in Germany. (The Spanish did beat Portugal and Greece).