Resources: April 2018

Universal Service: Hard-to-Reach Connectivity Challenges

April 2018


Despite large gains in connectivity around the world in recent years, the ITU reports that nearly one third of rural populations remain unreached. The ITU finds that fewer than 15% of households in least developed countries have internet access compared with 84.4% in developed countries


Universal Service is an important issue for developing countries as connectivity to the world is a basic right and reflected in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-being) and 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities). Regulators and responsible organisations strive to develop frameworks and initiatives to provide connectivity for those living in rural and/or remote areas, or indeed in un-served and under-served areas throughout the length and breadth of the country with good quality, affordable telecoms services, all aimed at narrowing the digital divide.





In many countries to connect hard-to-reach populations tend to be hard to reach in several ways as shown in the figure below.


Challanges to provide connectivity

Technical challenges

Technical challenges are generally not significant in providing connectivity, it is the economic viability and return on investment that are major hurdles. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to narrow-down the digital divide; it is a combination of several technical and economic factors that drives the optimum infrastructure solution to provide connectivity to various user groups who will benefit from using their respective e-services and how most efficiently those services are accessed.


Barriers to take-up

The traditional “four A” barriers to take-up/adoption of Internet and ICT-enabled services are shown in the figure below


Potential barriers to take-up

Content, Application, and Service Types

 Content, applications and services enabled by ICT networks are the key to digital take-up and adoption, including even voice where OTT applications substitute for telephony usage. Hence, once sufficient connectivity is available in a given situation or location, the accessibility and attractiveness of services, applications and content on affordable terms are crucial to increased utilisation.The three categories of e-services which have been found particularly conducive to ICT adoption by currently excluded consumers have in are: Voice and messaging services, Entertainment and Education.


Overcoming the Challenges

The challenges can all gradually be overcome, typically through the working of a virtuous circle. 

Overcoming the challenges through the working of a virtuous circle