Crossing the Digital Divide: How Internet Access Can Change the World

It’s a shocking statistic: 5 billion people, or six in every 10, do not have access to the Internet. You might think that the Internet has proliferated the world, but in actuality, the Internet has a long way to go to become a truly global communication system. This is in part due to the lack of accessibility to the right infrastructure and wireless technologies, both physically and financially. It also stems from barriers in culture and language and the negative perception of the Internet by some cultures, such as the belief that media and “Western” technologies have a negative influence on people. But hindered Internet access is also caused by what’s known as the digital divide, which refers to the financial capabilities (or lack thereof) of other Third World and developing countries to access the Internet. World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee says, “The majority of the world’s people are still not online, usually because they can’t afford to be. In Mozambique, for example, a recent study showed that using just 1GB of data can cost well over two months’ wages for the average citizen.” According to redOrbit, “The United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimates that fixed broadband currently costs 30 percent of the average monthly wage in developing countries.” Companies Come Together to Promote Internet Access To help combat this global issue and provide the social, educational, and economic opportunities that Internet access affords, major tech corporations, such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Intel, have banded together to form the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI). The initiative takes a policy-driven approach, such as “innovative allocation of a spectrum, promoting infrastructure sharing, and increasing transparency and public participation in regulatory decisions,” says Berners-Lee. While every country is different, people and organizations who have also worked toward this effort have found common themes in different countries’ success with efforts designed to provide Internet access to their citizens. For example, a Stanford report, “The Impact of the Internet on Developing Countries,” says that, “Most of the strategies that have successfully combated the lack of rural communications infrastructure involve some sort of public, community-based Internet access rather than individual Internet access.” It also found that, “Foreign investment played a large part in successful technological ventures.” In terms of foreign investment, enter: A4AI. The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) reports on emerging and developing economies, bringing countries like Morocco, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda into the international spotlight. These countries, according to A4AI’s Affordability Index, are at the top of the list  for being ready to break into widespread Internet coverage at costs affordable to job holders within their borders. One of these companies’ projects, Google’s Project Loon, uses a global network of high-altitude balloons to transmit Internet access to all parts of the world, including developing nations and other harder-to-reach places. It’s still in development stages, but it is planned to be used more extensively within the next decade. Facebook also has its own project,, which takes a three-pronged approach to bringing Internet access to the entire world. According to Information Week, Facebook intends to “develop a way to deliver data more efficiently and more affordably; use less data to improve to efficiency of apps; and help businesses drive Internet access by developing a new model to get people online.” To support this initiative, Facebook has recently acquired Titan Aerospace, a solar-powered atmospheric drone manufacturer, to deliver Internet access to the masses in the future. Why Do Developing Nations Need the Internet? You may be asking yourself, with all of the other hardships that many developing nations face, such as providing adequate food, water, shelter, and jobs to its citizens, why would Internet access be such an important initiative? While the Internet does not take away from the importance of these necessities for survival, the Internet offers its own rich possibilities and opportunities that can turn these developing nations around as well. These include boosting their economy, improved quality of life, increased global interaction, increased participation in fair trade, and more employment and educational opportunities. According to Global Media Journal, “With the help of the United States and other developed countries, it is possible to bridge the technology gap between the Western world and underdeveloped countries.  By incorporating the Internet and opening the lines of communication and trade, developing countries will better their economies and therefore raise their societies out of damaging levels of poverty and unemployment.” The Internet especially offers an enormous opportunity for employment and education by opening the floodgates of global job needs and a global sharing of now more easily accessible education at all levels. Both of these can boost the economy by producing more informed and better paid citizens. As citizens make more money, the country’s economy will see an increase in consumer spending and other local projects that can improve the quality of life and actually accelerate the success of bringing necessities like food, water, and shelter to villages, towns, and cities in need. In addition to improving job opportunities from within to better the economy, Third World and developing nations can also prosper thanks to the Internet’s ability to connect people and places throughout the world. With the Internet, these countries could negotiate better trade agreements and other economic agreements that can help those nations grow. Another development might be the advancement of medicine and other areas of knowledge that could also improve the country’s quality of life. With initiatives such as A4AI and the companies that participate, improved Internet access is right around the corner for Third World and developing nations. The potential for growth is enormous if these efforts are done right, and you could see a very changed world in the next couple of decades if they succeed. [zipfinder] Photo: Nasa Find Ryann on Google+

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