Yunindita Prasidya, Jakarta – Progress on creating widely accessible and affordable internet access in Indonesia is slow, with a recent study placing Indonesia 57th among 100 countries on the Inclusive Internet Index, indicating there is still a huge amount of work to be done when it comes to building a fully functioning digital economy.
The study, titled The Inclusive Internet Index, produced annually by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and commissioned by Facebook this year, placed Indonesia in the lower half globally and fourth among other lower-middle-income countries when it comes to its internet inclusiveness.
The index measures four aspects: availability, affordability, relevance and the readiness of people in using the internet. Out of 100 points, Indonesia scored 66.4 in 2020, a disappointing increase from the 65.4 the country scored in 2017, as reported by a similar study commissioned by Internet.org.
To put it into perspective, Indonesia was placed 35 out of 75 countries on the index in 2017, just one spot above India, which scored 64.4 that year. However, in the span of three years, India managed to improve by 7.3 points to rank 46 out of 100 countries in 2020. It is a far cry from Indonesia's one point improvement between 2017 and 2020.
"The results of this year's index and survey demonstrate that even as internet access increases globally, the pace of growth is slowing, particularly in lower-income countries where expansion is needed most," the 2020 report says.
In describing Indonesia, the study wrote on its site, theinclusiveinternet.eiu.com that: "This populous Southeast Asian country experiences considerable difficulties in supporting internet inclusion in every area of the index except for trust and safety."
Wahyudi Djafar, a researcher and deputy director of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday that many factors contributed to Indonesia's sluggish growth.
Inequality in telecommunications infrastructure between regions – with network expansion programs still heavily focused in Indonesia's more populated areas – is still a major issue. Unequal access to mobile devices and a lack of sufficient public policy to guide the growth of a digital nation were some others that Wahyudi pointed out.
"Intervention from the government to ensure the right of access for every citizen is still non-existent," Wahyudi said, adding that local providers were the ones dictating the price of data in the market based on their calculation and the competition between providers.
Using the Hirschman-Herfindahl index, an index that measures the concentration of markets, the EIU reports that Indonesia's broadband operators' market share is at 6,570, which indicates a highly concentrated market. That means that the broadband industry, which provides digital subscriber line (DSL), fiber optics, cables and satellites, is near-monopolistic. It contributes to why, in terms of its fixed-line monthly broadband cost, Indonesia is ranked 74th out of 100 countries, according to data provided on the EIU site.
The country does better in terms of its mobile phone cost for its prepaid tariff. The price of 1 GB of prepaid mobile data in Indonesia is around 1 percent of monthly gross national income (GNI) per capita, already within the range of affordable internet as described by the United Nations Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, wherein 1 GB of mobile broadband data is priced at 2 percent or less of average monthly income.
Wahyudi also noted that a policy founded on the idea of internet access as a fundamental right was still not present in the country, hence policy implementations in the country still lagged behind others who had built their digital agenda based on that idea.
Sweden, for example, which has ingrained the notion that internet access is an enabler of exercising human rights, tops the 2020 Inclusive Internet Index as it has implemented progressive internet inclusion policies over the years, among them being promoting competition between Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as described in a journal on internet regulation.
Moving into a digital society is already within the Indonesian government's agenda. On the 2020-2024 National Medium-Term Development Plan (RPJMN), the government highlighted the importance of mainstreaming the agenda of digital transformation to help achieve national development targets.
The digital transformation project, listed as one of the country's major projects according to the RPJMN, will receive an estimated Rp 50 trillion. The funds will be sourced from the state budget (APBN), regional budget (APBD), government-to-business cooperation (KPBU), state-owned enterprises and private entities.
Despite the concerted effort, the government should be reminded that "there is more to inclusion than internet availability," as the EIU report suggests, hinting at other important issues that needed to be addressed to create an inclusive digital society, including the issue of access gap between genders.
"Although narrowing, the gender gap in access remains stubbornly wide," the 2020 EIU report says, with men being on average 12.9 percent more likely than women to have internet access across the indexed countries.