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Study on universal funds finds gaps in Africa

Universal service and access funds (USAFs) can help close the digital divide, and the growing digital gender gap, by supporting public access initiatives, device subsidies, and digital skills training for women and other marginalised populations, notes the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI). But details on how USAF money is used to further the fund’s stated goals can be hard to come by, so A4AI and the Web Foundation have collaborated with UN Women to uncover fresh information on where USAFs are in place and how they’re being used to advance access – if they’re being used at all. Preliminary findings from this study were released at the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, focused on USAFs across the 18 ‘SMART’ Africa countries. The majority of these states have some form of USAF in place. Djibouti and South Sudan have no USAF, or have no publicly available information regarding a USAF; Mali and Angola both have USAFs in place, but both funds are inactive. But USAFs remain an untapped resource for achieving digital equality. In the five SMART Africa countries which openly publish details on USAF spending (Benin, Kenya, Rwanda, Togo and Uganda), “we estimate that at least $59 million – enough to provide basic digital skills training to over 18 million women – is sitting unused, or has been diverted to other non-ICT agencies. Given that 14 of the 18 SMART Africa countries have active USAFs, the total figure is likely to be far higher. And most USAFs do not explicitly take gender considerations into account.” Only two countries (Kenya and Uganda) consider gender in their universal service and access policies and plans (i.e., have specific objectives on closing the gender digital divide or on increasing women’s access, skills and use). “USAFs remain a vastly underutilised tool for tackling gaps in internet access and use. If we are to realise the global goal for universal, affordable access (Sustainable Development Goal 9c), governments must ensure that universal access policies employ USAFs to support both internet access and use programmes for all – and especially for women and girls, who are being left behind.” Read more here

  • Monday, 22 May 2017

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