NAMIBIA is close to finalising its broadband policy – a framework that will shape the digital future of our country and its citizens.

While the policy has been in the making for the past few years, the proposed final text falls short in a number of ways, including the failure to address very real affordability challenges and to develop a plan for bridging the digital divide.

The draft final policy proposes working towards a 5% affordability target, where broadband can be purchased for 5% or less of Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, with broadband defined by the policy to mean a minimum of 1 Mbps download speed.

What this target fails to take into account is the very real level of income inequality faced both here at home, as well as in countries around the globe.

According to the World Bank, Namibia’s GNI per capita is US$4 620; spending 5% of GNI per capita on an internet connection means that we should all be able to afford N$250 each a month to connect. I am sure I am not alone in thinking that this is not necessarily affordable to all.

Maintaining this 5% threshold for internet affordability will continue to exclude Namibians from access to the digital promise.

Will the internet therefore remain the preserve of the rich and privileged? Or will government adapt its affordability target to work toward a level that enables thousands more to afford access?

The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) has been leading a charge for governments throughout the continent to adopt a new, more ambitious “1 for 2” affordability target – that is, a target where 1GB of mobile data is available for 2% or less of GNI per capita.

According to A4AI, “the current 5% affordability target is insufficient in a world where income inequality is increasing. Even in countries that have achieved the 5% target, entry-level broadband is still too expensive for at least the bottom 20% of income earners in the country — and much too often remains out of reach for all those except the top 20% of income earners.”

Furthermore, the policy lacks a forward-looking vision, and fails to build on progress Namibia has made to advance affordable access in the country. For example, the policy does not contain a provision for the adoption or promotion of Dynamic Spectrum Access – something that has in other countries been a principle pillar in efforts to reduce connectivity costs and to bridge the digital divide.

In 2014, Namibia gained international recognition for being at the forefront of the trial of Dynamic Spectrum Access through the re-use of unused TV (UHF) channels; however, Namibia has yet to capitalise on its original leadership and innovation in this field.

We need a Broadband Policy that looks to make progress on work Namibia has done to advance affordable access so far, and which strives for a more ambitious “1 for 2” affordability threshold that will enable more of our citizens to afford to connect.

Delivering full digital inclusion for our country also means including a wide range of voices in the process – the current draft policy relies heavily on the communications regulator to advance internet access and use; what we need is a policy and a process that considers the voice of all stakeholders including us, the consumers.

Failure to redesign the Broadband Policy to tackle affordability, and to include a wide range of voices and stakeholders, is likely to result in the realisation of the digital dream remaining just that – a dream.

* Paul Rowney is an ACTION Namibia Coalition member and he is deputy chair of the MyDigitalBridge Foundation, which advocates low cost internet in Namibia.