According to a new report by the World Wide Web Foundation, the Kenyan government is withholding over $42 million from the financing of projects that are aimed at improving internet access in rural and remote areas.
The report released in conjunction with Alliance for Affordable Internet and UN Women shows that Universal Service and Access Funds (USAFs), a fund created through mandatory contributions from telecommunications service providers, grants, and donations and designed to incentivise the expansion of internet services in remote and underserved locations and explicitly address access and use gaps in communications services, remains unspent in government reserves or otherwise underutilised.
This issue is compounded by the fact that information, let alone up-to-date data — on the use and effectiveness of USAFs is often kept behind closed doors, or is missing entirely.
Kenya is one of the 37 countries in Africa that are active in USAFs and the last time they reported the amount of unspent funds of USAFs indicated that up to $42 million was unused. And this is so across the continent with only four countries namely Uganda, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Rwanda carrying a zero balance on the USAFs. This is despite the fact that internet speeds in Africa are among the slowest in the world and internet contribution to the GDP in Africa stands at only 1.1%.
These findings represent an effort to tackle these challenges, and to learn more on how USAFs can being used to close the digital divide and specifically, the gender digital divide which stands at 25.3% in Africa, the largest in the world.
The reports recommend that African countries can utilize the USAFs to make major, systemic impacts of closing the digital divide by financing infrastructure expansion (e.g., fibre backbone networks), digital skills training, and free or subsidised access to devices and/or internet in community spaces (e.g., schools, libraries, health clinics).