Ever wonder about the Internet’s true potential? Not that the cat pictures and videos of people hurting themselves in stupid yet creative ways aren’t great, but they’re not really doing much to promote the common good.

So, to ask a serious question, what can the Internet actually do for mankind? Asking the question is easy, but the Copenhagen Consensus Centre (CCC), a Danish think tank, put some work into finding an answer.

The CCC came to the conclusion that tripling developing countries’ access to mobile broadband networks by 2030 would increase the world economy by $22 trillion. The Centre estimated that creating this kind of access would only cost $1.3 trillion, meaning that every dollar invested would create $17 worth of good. Doing the same for fixed broadband access does even better, creating $21 for every dollar invested. By way of comparison, fighting HIV returns $11 of good per invested dollar. However, a dollar invested in fighting malnutrition in children creates $45 of good, and fighting malaria produces $35 of benefit. So while funding broadband might not be the most cost-effective way to provide aid to the developing world, it’s surprisingly high on the list.

One of Those Things Is Not Like the Other

Is it really possible to compare economic benefit with health-related benefits? It may sound insensitive to try to put a dollar amount on people’s health, but the CCC’s purpose in the study was to determine how best to spend aid money on the developing world. As such, it had to formulate some way to compare economic benefit with health benefit. With an estimated $2.5 trillion in aid to be distributed over the next 15 years, determining the most effective ways to allocate that money is hugely important.

How Broadband Actually Helps

Increasing mobile broadband access, the study says, benefits developed countries by helping lift more people out of poverty and increasing their access to information.Broadband provides jobs and improves GDP, and as a country’s economy improves, so does the health of its people.

“There’s a well-established increase in GDP growth if you have more broadband, and it doesn’t take very much of a higher growth rate to make a huge difference in people’s lives,” CCC director Bjorn Lomborg said.

Furthermore, improving infrastructure in the developing world puts those nations in a better position to continually help themselves than a constant flow of foreign aid. Still, Lomborg admits comparing broadband access with HIV research “infuriates a lot of people.”

The study gets into the details of infrastructure costs, and that due to factors like deployment cost and population density, fixed broadband networks tend to offer more benefit to developed countries like the United States, while mobile broadband offers greater advantages for developing nations. For that reason, the CCC specifically urges mobile broadband development over fixed, but both do provide significant benefit.

Closer to Home

Access to faster Internet speeds isn’t just something that benefits developing nations. In our own country, it does everything from increasing productivity to giving us something to smile about. So do some good for your own personal outlook, and find out how to get the most speed out of your connection or the least money out of your wallet.

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Image by Jason Howle/Flickr