The World* Wide Web? A Global Digital Divide

*The developed parts of the world that have access to the internet


The internet: an expansive digital world full of knowledge and ideas, also known as the “net,” the “information superhighway,” and the “world wide web.” But is the web as wide as we think it is? Does the internet really reach everyone in the world?

The unfortunate truth is that more than half of the world’s population doesn’t have access to the internet at all. In fact, 4.6 billion people in the world live without internet access — that’s 68 percent. This is what we call the digital divide.

The digital divide, in short, is the gap between those who have access to the internet, and those who have limited or no access. This divide can be caused by differences in income, education, and the development of countries.

Now that we know about the divide, we must ask: Who does it effect? How can the problem be fixed? And who are the people taking the initiative to do so?

THOSE WITHOUT INTERNET

This map, which is comprised of compiled data from 2016, shows that countries in Central America, Africa, and Central/South Asia have the least amount of internet users.

http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/

Four billion people from developing countries remain offline, which represents two thirds of the population residing in developing countries. Source.

These developing countries are home to people who make generally low incomes, and students who receive insufficient/no education. But if people in these underdeveloped nations are worrying about feeding their families and finding clean water — things that citizens of developed countries would consider basic necessities — do they really want or need the internet?

“Today, high-speed broadband is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.” — Barack Obama

Whether or not they have a desire for internet use, it is beginning to become accepted that every human should have the right to internet access and the opportunities it provides.

http://www.soschildrensvillages.org.uk/news/blog/can-developing-countries-benefit-from-cutting-edge-technology

In fact, the CBC states that “there’s a growing argument that high-speed home internet access is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.” Those who do not have access to the internet are missing out on economic opportunities, democracy (by means of a platform for global camaraderie), education, disaster relief, and healthcare.

HOW WE CAN GET INTERNET TO THEM? WHO IS TAKING INITIATIVES TO BRIDGE THE GAP?

The answers to these questions are closely tied. This is because the mission of providing internet to everyone in the world requires a big idea and a lot of funding — which means big companies with big ideas.

images.google.ca

Companies who have developed ideas to provide world wide internet, and are now taking steps to implement them, include Google and Facebook. Both companies have launched projects with the specific aim of providing free internet access to those in developing countries. Let’s take a look at these projects.

Internet.org

Led by Facebook, Internet.org is a collaborative project including six companies (Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Nokia and Qualcomm)

On their website, they proudly state that their mission is “bringing internet access and the benefits of connectivity to the two-thirds of the world that doesn’t have them.”

Their approach includes projects such as:

  • Free Basics by Facebook, providing access to useful services on mobile phones in markets where internet access isn’t affordable
  • Connectivity Lab, home to a team that is exploring a variety of technologies — including high-altitude long-endurance planes, satellites and lasers — in order to provide affordable internet across the world.
  • Express WiFi by Facebook, which works with carriers, internet service providers, and local entrepreneurs to help expand connectivity.
Free Basics by Facebook, Kenya https://info.internet.org/en/approach/

Their progress:

Through internet.org’s efforts, over 25 million people now have online access who would otherwise not have it. The people they’ve affected now have access to education, business opportunities, and knowledge about health and safety.

Testimony of a person positively affected by Internet.org’s Free Basics program. More videos like this can be found at https://info.internet.org/en/impact/

Project Loon

Project Loon, developed by X (Google X), is “a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to extend Internet connectivity to people in rural and remote areas worldwide.” Source.

So how does it work?

Project Loon wants to launch a fleet of balloons into the stratosphere with satellites attached. High speed internet will be transmitted up to the balloons from telecommunications partners on the ground, spread through the balloon network, and then back down to users on the ground. Their “Autolaunchers” are capable of successfully launching a new balloon every 30 minutes.

https://www.solveforx.com/loon/

The idea is that you can connect to the internet transmission of one of these satellite-laden balloons, and once it passes out of range, your device can pick up the signal from the next balloon, and on and on.

Although this project is still in the development stages, their plans to provide internet to those without access seems to be supported so far by their numerous tests and experiments.

“Introducing Project Loon”

WHY?
After hearing about the efforts of these major corporations, the question begs to be answered: why? What is their motivation?

In an ideal world, they genuinely want to better the lives of people by improving education, healthcare, knowledge, and opportunities. Such genuine regard for the less fortunate is not usually the reality of major corporations, however. What is? I’m sure you can guess: money.

For companies like Facebook and Google, more users means more money. In one study, it’s been concluded that each user is worth $20.75 to Facebook and $223 to Google annually. Adding 4.6 billion people to their numbers definitely would benefit these companies.

Despite the motivations of these major companies, however, it is hard to argue that their efforts won’t benefit the world at large. By giving internet access to every person, as a basic right, we will be developing the world with an increase in education, health, and communication — then, and only then, will we bring an end to the digital divide.