Our smartphones are something that we consistently take for granted. In today’s digital world, it’s hard for many to remember a time when we didn’t hold extremely powerful computers in the palm of our hands. Yet, for billions of people around the world, accessing a smartphone isn’t feasible.
The issue of smartphone affordability is one that needs to be addressed—and soon. A survey recently published by the Alliance for Affordable Internet, an initiative of Tim Berners-Lee’s Web Foundation, found that more than 2.5 billion people live in a country where a smartphone costs more than a quarter of their monthly income.
Without access to a smartphone and the wealth of opportunities that its internet connection provides, these individuals are at a severe disadvantage. So, how do we fix this problem?
A Look at the Data
One of the Web Foundation’s major goals is to get more people online. That aim is shared by the United Nations and countless governments. Internet access is one of the most important opportunities in today’s world. It opens the doors for education, employment, and access to lifesaving social services.
The current COVID-19 pandemic is only highlighting the importance of the internet and the key role it plays in modern society.
Teddy Woodhouse of the Web Foundation says, “The internet is a lifeline, and we need to do everything possible to remove the barriers that stand in the way of people getting online.”
The organization’s data paints a clear picture of an ever-widening technology gap. In India, home to more than a fifth of the world’s population, the cheapest available smartphone costs $346. That’s more than twice the average monthly salary of the country’s citizens. In Sierra Leone, the average person would need to spend six months of income to afford an even cheaper smartphone.
The Web Foundation’s survey was conducted in 70 low- and middle-income countries.
Another concerning finding is that women are 25 percent less likely to own a smartphone. That’s because they are more likely to get priced out of owning one than men. With less spending power, women who eventually do get a phone are likely to own an older model that has less functionality.
What Comes Next?
The problem of smartphone affordability is one of global proportions. That means a global solution will be needed to solve it.
It should be a top priority in the coming years.
Woodhouse says, “The vast majority of the next billion people who come online will do so using a mobile device, and so if we’re to make sure more people can access the internet’s benefits, handsets must be more affordable.”
Of course, there are many factors that affect the cost of a smartphone. From components to marketing, it is a complicated business. Still, some steps could help make devices more affordable for low- and mid-income individuals.
For instance, governments could offer tax breaks for low-cost devices and support projects that help get phones in the hands of people who cannot afford them. Such initiatives will play a crucial role in expanding internet access around the world. More importantly, they will help distribute the benefits that come with it.