Snapshot: How affordable is mobile broadband in the Caribbean?
Following on from our mobile/cellular broadband spend Snapshot, we examine the affordability of that service across the Caribbean.
In our recent Snapshot: How much are we spending on mobile data plans in the Caribbean?, we examined a broad range of mobile/cellular broadband plans from across the Caribbean to determine and compare the amounts being spent across the region. Following that exercise, we are now examining the affordability of those plans. The countries covered remains that same, as per the earlier Snapshot, but are listed in Table 1 below, for ease of reference.
Having examined monthly pricing by prepaid mobile/cellular customers, this review focuses on the affordability of those data plans. The prices captured in the mobile/cellular spend exercise were compared against estimated monthly income, for which per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures, sourced from the International Monetary Fund and United Nations, were used as a proxy. The resulting ratios, which have been expressed as percentages, indicate the proportion of a person’s income that would be spent on the stated plan, and hence indicates the extent to which it might be affordable to the average consumer.
In this assessment, we considered the affordability of prepaid mobile/cellular broadband plans with 1, 2 and 3 GB data caps. The results are presented and discussed in the sections below,
How affordable is mobile/cellular broadband?
The proportion of a person’s monthly income that could be spent on mobile/cellular broadband service varies widely across the Caribbean region. Figure 1, shows the percentage of monthly income that could be spent on mobile/cellular broadband service with data cap of 1 GB. The proportion of income consumed varies from 0.5% in the Cayman Islands, to 5.0 % in Saint. Vincent and the Grenadines. The average proportion of a typical monthly income among the countries assessed is 2.2%.
It is again highlighted that Guyana and Jamaica have been excluded from this 1 GB data cap assessment. As was noted in out mobile/cellular broadband spend snapshot, both of those countries do not offer a discrete 1 GB data plan. In the case of Guyana, 1 GB exceeds the largest data plan offered by the carrier under review, whilst in the case of Jamaica, none of the carriers offer that particular plan, although larger ones are available.
Outside of mobile/cellular broadband plans with a 1 GB data cap, the service offerings across the region vary widely. Hence for other comparisons, such as that shown in Figure 2, only a handful of countries offered the specified plans, and hence could be considered. With regard to a plan with a 2 GB data cap, only the British Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis and the Turks and Caicos islands, offer that plan. The smallest proportion of spend against income is likely to be realised in the Turks and Caicos Islands, at approximately 0.8%, whilst the largest share of income among the sample group occurred in Jamaica, at 4.3% of monthly income. Averaged across the four countries examined, approximately 2.3% of a person’s monthly income would be spent on a mobile/cellular broadband plan with a 2 GB data cap.
With regard to a mobile/cellular broadband plan with a 3 GB data cap, only Barbados, the British Virgin Islands, Jamaica, and Suriname offered that specific data cap as a standalone plan. The proportion of monthly income for a 3 GB plan, ranged from 1.33% in Barbados, to 6.83% in Jamaica. On average across the four countries, a 3 GB plan would account for approximately 3.9% of the average person’s monthly income.
From our previous exercise, Snapshot: How much are we spending on mobile data plans in the Caribbean?, there might have been an initial sentiment that mobile broadband service might not be considerably expensive in the Caribbean. However, relative to monthly income – for which per capita GDP has been used as an approximation – mobile/cellular broadband subscriptions are not particularly affordable in most countries.
It is important to highlight that in the majority of instances, mobile/cellular broadband would be an add-on service – in additional to the general voice and text message services. Hence customers would already be paying for those basic capabilities, and therefore means that an even larger portion of their monthly income would be consumed, when mobile/cellular broadband is also considered.
Finally, in most, if not all Caribbean countries, access to telecoms is primarily via mobile/cellular phones. Hence there is a significant opportunity, through those devices, to also increase Internet access, leading to greater citizen participation, and a potential narrowing of the digital divide. However, with prices set at current levels, relative to a person’s likely monthly income, it can be clearly observed that mobile data broadband plan might still be too expensive for most to take up that service.