While access to the Internet used to be the critical bottleneck in many emerging countries, the mobile Internet has changed all of that. Just as mobile telephony quickly leap-frogged fixed telephony in almost every country, the mobile Internet is now the main form of access for most users. Today, with some countries having 90% availability of mobile Internet, but with adoption far below that level, we see clearly that Internet access is a means to an end, and that end is Internet content. Our new report, “Promoting Content in Africa” shows that content is king for increasing demand for Internet adoption and usage. Content must not just be locally relevant, a point noted here but it must be locally available.
As we have shown in a recent study in Rwanda, most content relevant to local needs, including both international as well as locally developed content, is hosted abroad, in Europe or even the US. This increases costs and decreases use. First, ISPs bear a significant cost in bringing the content back into the country each time it is requested over expensive international links. Second, the time to load a page from overseas is longer and less predictable and, as most of us know, the slower a website the less likely we are to continue.
As a result, content infrastructure is needed to host and deliver the content locally. This includes data centres to hold the content and provide access to local connections; hosting providers or content delivery networks to host the content in the data centre; and an Internet exchange point to provide efficient connections to the ISPs and their end-user customers. Having content hosted in a local data centre and delivered through a local IXP increases the speed of downloads significantly, which is noticeable to users and in our experience may quickly double usage.
The Internet Society has long played a role in helping to promote the development of IXPs, which are a critical piece of infrastructure for content delivery. With this paper, we go further and discuss the steps that policymakers can take to remove roadblocks and promote a local content infrastructure, in order to increase local demand for Internet content and help to create a local market for content developers, another step in the path towards creating vibrant and sustainable Internet ecosystems in every country.