Non-discriminating access for Digital Inclusion (DigI)
Sustainable Business Models for Information Access
The Non-discriminating access for Digital Inclusion (DigI) project is a three year project, running from 2017 - 2020 with the main objective to establish pilots for the InfoInternet access in DRC Congo and Tanzania. The project was founded by the Research Council of Norway as part of the Visjon2030 portfolje. R&I work related to the pilots will prove business profitability for commercial establishment of the InfoInternet as an independent and self-sustainable ICT and communication infrastructure for digital inclusion. Internet access is a universal issue and of major concern to many policy makers and governments. Free access to information presents the basis for a scalable solution of digital access for everyone in the society.
Digital access to information, connecting the unconnected, is the entry point for digital skills. Digital access is the catalyst for the SDG 2030 targets especially in digital health, education for youth and women, and driver for digital education (see figure on Population without Internet).
The main objectives are supported through deployments and validation in Tanzania and DRC (Congo), focussing on the following sub-objectives:
- Bridging the digital divide by providing the InfoInternet infrastructure and digital access.
- Provision of customised content for education and health purposes, thus creating the basis for jobs, as well as financial and social inclusion
- A cost-effective, open and scalable Wifi extension of the mobile network for the low-income group, enabling (mobile) operators to provide digital services
- Education, health and entrepreneurship for women and youth empowerment as representatives of the vulnerable society groups
Plans for Tanzania and DRC Congo
In Tanzania the focus is on establishing the Information-Internet to provide healthcare services through mobile applications. GSMA has an infrastructure sharing pilot operation in Tanzania, thus an extension towards Information-Internet provision will allow for cost-effective provision of health services. The focal areas are enhancements of the epidemic registration, reporting and response through mobile apps, digital literacy programs, and entrepreneurial opportunities for indication-based diagnosis. The primary health centres will act as focal points for health education, to be extended with other education.
In DRC (Congo) the focus will be on novel services and entrepreneurial opportunities through Internet services provided in an off-grid location. We will demonstrate the ability to establish a profitable business as mobile operator and internet provider in rural areas, reaching out to people with income below 3$US per day by including them into the digital society. We have identified the villages of Kano and Palu as pilot entrepreneurial services and information through the extension of the satellite-based mobile service provision with an Internet extension. Examples of the envisaged services are voucher-sales for digital services, electrical lights, as well as programs and mentoring for education and health.
Supporting the Vision of Digital Inclusion
Seldom does an opportunity arise to positively impact the lives of the billions of people through access to digital information, and this project is configured exactly to accomplish this vision. It is a win-win for all the stake holders: the service providers, users, national governments, content providers and equipment suppliers. Therefore, the vision of the project DigI is to provide free and affordable Internet access to basic information for everyone on the globe, by creating and promoting the “Information-Internet” (InfoInternet). The InfoInternet is “just information, nothing else”, or in technology terms, the focus on (compressed) text and pictures. It is well established that access to good education and good healthcare are essential to solving many societal issues of employment, good governance, and social justice. Building physical infrastructure and scaling is simply not possible due to inherent costs involved and lack of available talent. Fortunately, rapid deployment of wireless infrastructure and availability of the vast amount of digital content has democratized and flattened the world with equal access to everyone as long as access to Internet is available and affordable. In this project, we unlock the value of the Internet, availability of the free digital content on the web, declining prices of the smart devices, crowd sourcing to create local content in local languages, and flexibility in developing the business models to bring affordable Internet to those at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP), who account for nearly 4 billion people around the globe either not having access to Internet or do not use Internet for various reasons.
However, there is nothing “free” that is sustainable, thus the main challenge is to establish the financial eco- system for free access to the InfoInternet. Facebook has shown that their service Free Basics achieves commercial break-even for mobile operators already after three months of operation (Facebook, 2016), though neglecting European laws1. Mobile operators typically concentrate on revenue, and, therefore, prefer to roll-out their services in markets with sufficient revenue. Given a large number of people with little income, even a revenue of 2 US$/month for information services is a significant challenge for the service providers. DigI suggests a hybrid business model, with free access to the InfoInternet, and paid access to full Internet services. The business assumption is that less than 2.5% of the total network traffic will be InfoInternet traffic, and that these costs can be calculated as corporate social responsibility (CSR) and/or easily supported by the revenue generated from the full Internet services and through commercials or through other support. Furthermore, from the market development perspective, those first users of the free internet access are the future potential consumers of the fully paid internet service data plans.
Establishing a regional platform, independent or connected, the users will become a part of the collaborative partnership model. When combined with a paid mechanism for access to non-basic (premium information) through vouchers or pre-paid credit (similar to the present-day voice top-up model), this business model will become commercially sustainable and foster an adaptive, user-driven ecosystem with local and global connectivity for training, education, healthcare and culture - propelling the social, digital and financial inclusion.
The DigI consortium consists of partners having (i) an excellent expertise in projects in Africa, (ii) being experts in the fields of digital access, content management, and content, (iii) having core competence in health and education for SDG 3 and 4, and (iv) understand the business of digital access. Examples of competences covering (i)-(iv) are given for selected partners. BasicInternet covers (i),(ii) through roll-out at Universities in Kinshasa (DRC), Orange covers (i),(ii),(iv) through years of operations, UiO covers (iii) with focus on SDG 4, GHMP covers (iii) through information platforms, IPXextenso covers (i),(iv) through off- grid satellite communications.
- The Basic Internet Foundation will demonstrate the technical feasibility and the business profitability of InfoInternet
- Orange will demonstrate the novel opportunity of freemium access, enable low-end customers to become familiar with digital information, and generate business from other customers through paid voucher system.
- UiO will strengthen the social responsibility in health and education. The Center for Global Health will benefit from leveraging the One-Health services into the digital space. The Department of Informatics will benefit from research project development, disseminating the reports and papers in high-quality journals and publications, with exchange students.
- The Ministry of Health, NIMR, and SUA in Tanzania will receive faster access to health information and triggers for relevant public health intervention through apps and digital access
- GHMP will enable local (off-line) access for their health videos, and pilots the online interactivity
- IPXextenso will extend their GSM off-grid network with Internet and enable a new service market
- FCI will foster digital competence and education through using their experience from the African market
- Movation will handle innovation aspects, e.g. best praxis applicability of open innovation
- Norwegian Research Council, "57 millioner til innovasjon for fattigdomsbekjempelse", online: http://www.forskningsradet.no/no/Nyheter/57_millioner_til_innovasjon_for_fattigdomsbekjempelse/1254022844465/p1174467583739, 16Dec2016
- "Continental disconnect - Mobile phones are transforming Africa", The Economist, 18Dec2016, http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21711511-mobile-phones-are-transforming-africa-where-they-can-get-signal-mobile-phones