Internet is a world-wide computer network that can be accessed via a computer, mobile telephone, PDA, games machine, digital TV, among others. It can also be defined as the worldwide interconnection of individual networks operated by government, industry, academia, and private parties.
The Internet access service can be provided through a fixed (wired) or mobile network: analogue dial-up modem via standard telephone line, ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network), DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) or ADSL, Cable modem, High speed leased lines, Fibre, Powerline, Satellite broadband network, WiMAX, Fixed CDMA, Mobile broadband network (3G, e.g. UMTS) via a handset or card, Integrated SIM card in a computer, or USB modem.
Importance of the Internet
Originally the Internet served to interconnect laboratories engaged in government research. However, since 1994 it has been expanded to serve millions of users and a multitude of purposes in all parts of the world.
In a matter of very few years, the Internet consolidated itself as a very powerful platform that has forever changed the way we do business, and communicate. The Internet has turned the world into a global world. It has become the Universal source of information for millions of people, at home, at school, and at work.
Furthermore, with regards to the social web and mobile technology, the Internet has created new ways to communicate. Since its creation in 2004, Facebook has grown into a worldwide network of over 1 billion subscribers. On the other hand, the widespread adoption of mobile technology has made it possible for the Internet to reach an increasing number of mobile users.
The Internet also continues to be the most democratic of all the mass media. With a very low investment, anyone can have presence in the form of a web page on the Internet. This way, almost any business can reach a very large market, directly, fast and economically, no matter the size or location of the business. Blogging has consolidated social media applications and people everywhere are expressing and publishing their ideas and opinions like never before.
Access to the Internet
Around 40% of the world's 7 billion population has an internet connection today (compared to less than 1% in 1995). The number of internet users has increased tenfold from 1999 to 2013. The first billion was reached in 2005. The second billion in 2010. The third billion will be reached by the end of 2014.
In 2014, nearly 75% (2.1 billion) of all internet users in the world (2.8 billion) live in the top 20 countries, while the remaining 25% (0.7 billion) is distributed among the other 178 countries, each representing less than 1% of total users.
China, the country with most users (642 million in 2014), represents nearly 22% of total, and has more users than the next three countries combined (United States, India, and Japan). Among the top 20 countries, India is the one with the lowest penetration: 19% and the highest yearly growth rate. At the opposite end of the range, United States, Germany, France, U.K., and Canada have the highest penetration: over 80% of population in these countries has an internet connection.
Status in Africa
Internet access has yet to reach more than 50% of Africans, but the continent's connectivity levels are nevertheless growing very quickly. Uganda is among Africa's top ten internet markets. According to ITU, as of February 2014, the top ten African countries with the biggest number of internet users were Nigeria (48.4 million), Egypt (29.8 million), Morocco (16.5 million), Kenya (12 million).
Others were South Africa (8.5 million), Sudan (6.5 million), Tanzania (5.6 million), Algeria (5.2 million), Uganda (4.4 million) and Tunisia (4.2 million).
Position of Uganda in Africa
As a regulator of the communications sector in Uganda, UCC is glad to note that Internet access and usage in Uganda has been growing exponentially. In the last decade, the Commission has licensed seven major telecom operators, who provide Internet among other services.
Although Uganda was 9th in Africa as indicated above, to-date Uganda has an estimated 8.5 million internet users. According to the International Telecommunications Union, there were 562,240 Facebook subscribers as of end of 2013, which was a 1.7% penetration rate.
Suffice to say, there are still a number of challenges as far as access, cost, and usage of Internet is concerned.
Access Infrastructure: Although the establishment of the National Optic Fibre Backbone is expected to enhance backbone connectivity to most of Uganda's borders, there is still a long way to go in enabling connectivity for the vast majority of Ugandans. Operators have established Public Land Mobile Networks across most of the country using 2G technology and upgrades to 3G and 4G (LTE) are ongoing and currently mainly restricted to urban areas, specifically Kampala.
Mobile Internet access is still the dominant mode of access to the Internet for most Ugandans but even so, the percentage of subscribers using mobile Internet service is still low. The cost of access devices such as phones and computers is also still contributing to low levels of access to the Internet.
Cost of Internet Services
The graph below shows the cost of 1Gbps, 500Mbps and 250Mbps for a sample of major data service providers in Uganda. Although the cost of Internet services has decreased significantly over the years, it is still on the higher side within the East African region and also remains relatively unaffordable for most of Uganda's population.
Retail Cost of Internet Services in Uganda for different Mbps
Source: Operator Data, 2014
Usage: Various barriers still exist in utilising Internet services effectively in Uganda today. The lack of appropriate local content and applications is one of the key factors limiting the gainful use of Internet services. Other related challenges such as poor access and reliability of electricity supply as well as the lack of skills also persist.
Additionally, vandalisation of ICT infrastructure, cybercrime and pornography – inclusive of identity thefts, online, child pornography – are another set of challenges facing Internet users in Uganda today. With regard to cybercrime, a Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) has been established.
The challenges cited above are not insurmountable. As we celebrate this International Internet Day, UCC is keen to celebrate the achievements that the access to Internet in Uganda has so far enabled. We look forward to a continued open Internet and strive to explore new strategies that will enable us to provide better quality, affordable and easily accessible broadband services, to Ugandans.
Happy INTERNATIONAL INTERNET DAY 2014!