Qatar residents continue to pay the highest prices to access the internet at home and at work in the GCC, according to a recent report by a UN agency.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) found that an average fixed-line broadband plan in 2013 cost the equivalent of US$54.95 a month, up slightly from $54.90 a year earlier.
That’s the highest among the six GCC countries.
While Qatar ranked marginally higher than the UAE ($54.19), prices for broadband internet services here were more than three times as expensive as in Kuwait, which had the lowest average price at $17.27.
The results mirror the ITU’s findings from a year earlier, which also found that Qatar residents were paying among the highest rates in the Gulf for telecom services like phone and internet.
The ITU said levels of competition and regulation are two of the most important factors behind the prices for information and communication technology services.
In Qatar, local authorities have previously said that by 2016, all residents would be able to choose between at least two competing broadband retail providers.
Speaking at the unveiling of Qatar’s national broadband strategy in December 2013, Dr. Hessa Al-Jaber – the country’s minister of information and communications technology – said the impending competition should reduce prices and improve services:
“The speed and affordability of both fixed and mobile broadband remain major issues … (We want to) make the internet available to every citizen regardless of their social or economic situation.”
In a wealthy country such as Qatar, the cost of broadband internet services consumes a relatively small portion of a household’s annual income compared to other countries.
Expressed as a percentage of per-capita gross national income, Qatar ranks 14th in the world in internet affordability. That’s the second-best in the GCC, after Kuwait.
However, income levels vary greatly in Qatar between highly skilled workers and low-income laborers, which likely plays a role in the digital divide highlighted by ITU.
Citing information from ictQatar, the UN agency said there are “discrepancies” in the levels of access to broadband internet and other technology, such as smartphones, between high-income individuals – namely Qataris and western expats – and laborers.
Overall, the number of households with internet access jumped from 88.1 percent in 2012 to 96.4 percent in 2013, the ITU found.