2.2

Digital Infrastructure and Connectivity

Section 2.2. discusses two types of interventions. Backbone technical infrastructure, that refers to national or large regional technical infrastructure, is of a backbone nature. Most commonly, Backbone technical infrastructure interventions include the following specific interventions:  National & international/regional fiber backbone; Government internal networks; Internet exchange points; and National data center operations, and, possibly, other similar ones. Those should be distinguished from 2) infrastructure interventions that focus on promoting access, such as Last Mile Connectivity and Improving Device Ownership, which are very different from a gender perspective. 
Women in many countries are concentrated in rural areas, disadvantaged urban dwellings, and remote places that may naturally become the focus of Last Mile Connectivity and have the potential to become main beneficiaries of such interventions. There are also gender and regional imbalances in regards to device ownership. Women are often unable to enjoy connectivity due to unaffordability of the services and complementary requirements as well as social constraints that they face. The section therefore also focuses on Improving Device Ownership. 
Several sub sections develop these themes further.

Sub section 2.2.2. discusses Infrastructure interventions that focus on promoting access: Last Mile Connectivity. The section only concerns itself with connectivity as a basis for services that can build upon such an infrastructure, but does not cover access to services themselves.  
Sub section 2.2.3. outlines specific ICT interventions related to Improving Device Ownership that include subsidizing ICT devices, distributing free ICT devices and enabling importation of approved low-cost devices. A related issue is removing customs and excise duties on devices.  This subsection also specifies barriers and opportunities and gender targeted actions. 

  • 2.2.1 Backbone Technical Infrastructure

    • 2.2.1.1 Specific ICT interventions

      This category refers to national or large regional technical infrastructure interventions that are of a backbone nature, which most commonly include the specific interventions listed below and possibly other similar ones. 

      • National & international/regional fiber backbone
      • Government internal networks
      • Internet exchange points
      • National data center operations

      It should be distinguished from infrastructure interventions that focus on promoting access, such as Last Mile Connectivity and Improving Device Ownership, which are very different from a gender perspective. Please see the hyper-linked sections for more details.

    • 2.2.1.2 Why should you care about gender?

      At the time this toolkit was drafted, the authors were not aware of any evidence showcasing how gender considerations may influence the outcomes of this category of interventions per se and do not see specific entry points for gender. Hence, this category is labelled as gender neutral. 
      However, setting up backbone infrastructure could entail labor influx, which in turn could pose a risk of increased instances of gender based violence. Refer to the recommendations of the World Bank Global Gender-Based Violence Task Force to address these risks (Gupta and Sierra, 2017).

  • 2.2.2 Last Mile Connectivity

    Sub section 2.2.2. discusses Infrastructure interventions that focus on promoting access: Last Mile Connectivity. The section only concerns itself with connectivity as a basis for services that can build upon such an infrastructure, but does not cover access to services themselves. 

    • 2.2.2.1 Specific ICT interventions

      Expansion of fixed and wireless access network coverage in remote areas. This section only concerns itself with connectivity as a basis for services that can build upon such an infrastructure, but does not cover access to services themselves. Last Mile Connectivity projects that include any component beyond the infrastructure sense and aimed at expanding services should also refer to Section 2.3 Platforms & Services for additional guidance on ensuring that women may equally benefit from intended services.

    • 2.2.2.2 Why should you care about gender?

      Even though Last Mile Connectivity interventions focus mostly on extending technical infrastructure, gender considerations could significantly impact outcomes. Women in many countries are concentrated in rural areas, disadvantaged urban dwellings, and remote places that may naturally become the focus of Last Mile Connectivity and have the potential to become main beneficiaries of such interventions. However, women are often unable to enjoy connectivity even when there is coverage, due to unaffordability of the services and complementary requirements as well as social constraints that they face. In particular, women are concentrated at the bottom of the pyramid with less access to education and lower income, rendering them less likely to be able to afford connectivity even in the presence of access to networks.

    • 2.2.2.3 Barriers/opportunities and gender targeted actions

       Barrier/Opportunity

       Gender targeted action

      Social constraints on economic/ residential mobility

      • Policies to promote affordable infrastructure
      • Public access centers: ensure adequate coverage in remote and poor locations, where women are often concentrated

      Unaffordability of Voice/Data services

      • Policies to promote affordable infrastructure
      • Public access centers: ensure that services at public access centers are priced appropriately
      • Encouraging private MNOs and retail sellers to pursue innovative pricing models in SIM

      Lack of affordable access to electricity and charging infrastructure

      • Actions to provide affordable electricity infrastructure
      • Policies to promote affordable infrastructure
      • Public access centers: ensure adequate coverage in remote locations
  • 2.2.3 Improving Device Ownership

    Specific ICT interventions related to Improving Device Ownership that include subsidizing ICT devices, distributing free ICT devices and enabling importation of approved low-cost devices. A related issue is removing customs and excise duties on devices.  This subsection also specifies barriers and opportunities and gender targeted actions.

    • 2.2.3.1 Specific ICT interventions

      • Subsidizing ICT devices such as mobile phones and computers
      • Distributing free ICT devices at select locations or to select subgroups of the population
      • Enable importation of approved low-cost devices
      • Remove customs and excise duties on devices

      It is also worth noting how these interventions are executed, as evidence of failed universal access strategies suggests that problems such as corruption, lack of sustainability, and market distortion, to name a few, have resulted in the interventions not reaching their intended beneficiaries. Hence, the output indicators linked to the gender targeted actions proposed in this section, while designed to evaluate the gender specific outcomes of proposed actions within the larger ICT interventions, may also partially act as indirect measures to assess the effectiveness of the ICT interventions themselves. 

    • 2.2.3.2 Why should you care about gender?

      Device ownership is an area where large gender gaps in developing countries have been identified. Worldwide, women are 14% less likely than men to own mobile phones (GSMA, 2015). While this gap is already large, it further masks regional inequality--in South Asia, the gap is as large as 38% (Ibid), although work by Research ICT Africa indicates that the factors driving this inequality is not gender per se but levels of education and income (Chair, Deen-Swarray, and Khan, 2016). This gap is even bigger when mobile phone ownership is divided by smartphone ownership, and basic or feature phone ownership (#afteraccess 2017 survey). 

      Owing to the relatively low ownership, women tend to borrow, and share devices more than men do, which limits their opportunity to learn and access important and private information on the devices. It also has a direct impact on women’s access to a wide range of ICT based services such as digital government services, mobile money, m-Health, m-Agriculture, to name a few. Consequently, neglecting to bridge the gender gap in device ownership will widen existing gender inequality as many women remain excluded from the digital dividends. Improving women’s device ownership is also a complex issue that involves not only the affordability of a range of related products and prerequisites which are the usual targets for interventions, but also considerations of the gender gap in literacy and digital skills and social norms that often discourage women from acquiring ICT devices even when they can.

      In addition, the challenges of implementing subsidies for devices and services have been widely documented. Corruption or incompetence in the administration of the subsidy often result in the subsidized services or devices not reaching their intended beneficiaries. In cases where the cost of the subsidy is levied on the operators who in turn add it to their cost of services, the subsidy drives up the cost of services and distorts market prices and efficiencies. The entry of low cost devices that are technically approved should be enabled with a waiver on the excise and customs duties, which can inflate the cost of devices by as much as 25 to 30%.
       

    • 2.2.3.3 Barriers/opportunities and gender targeted actions

       Barrier/Opportunity

       Gender targeted action

      Lack of affordable access to electricity and charging infrastructure

      • Actions to provide affordable electricity infrastructure

      Unaffordability of Voice/Data services

      • Encouraging private MNOs and retail sellers to pursue innovative pricing models in SIM
      • Policies to promote affordable infrastructure

      Limited device ownership due to unaffordability

      • Program design that considers women’s different situations and needs
        • Encourage private MNOs and retail sellers to pursue innovative device pricing models
        • Encourage R&D in cheap handsets
      • Policy to reduce taxes and duties
      • Policy to increase competition and decrease prices

      Social norms against women using ICT

      • Target local communities’ awareness of ICT use

      Discriminatory laws and procedures

      • Policy advocacy to prevent/remove discriminatory rules and procedures

      Lack of digital literacy

      • Digital literacy training that includes women

      Lack of trust in modern technology

      • Digital literacy training taking advantage of the demonstration effect