internet access
In sub-Saharan Africa, more people own a mobile phone than have access to electricity. About 41% of sub-Saharan Africans use the internet and 33% own a smartphone. Importantly, these numbers are on the rise. The region’s internet access has greatly expanded in recent years, especially in rural areas. This, in turn, allows for more people to use digital services such as online education and telemedicine. Widespread access to these key services benefits rural communities across sub-Saharan Africa by promoting socioeconomic development. All of these benefits, made possible through internet access in sub-Saharan Africa.

Expanding Access to Telemedicine

Rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa typically have fewer health resources and doctors readily available. Moreover, people may need to travel long distances to reach the nearest hospitals. The region holds 13% of the world’s population, but only 2% of the world’s doctors. With mobile devices and reliable internet access, people can access basic healthcare regardless of their geographical location. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 41% of respondents in sub-Saharan Africa “use the internet to access information about health and medicine.”

By facilitating telemedicine systems, internet connectivity can improve the quality of care in community health centers and reduce patients’ transport times and medical costs. For example, the Novartis Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on projects that improve health, launched a telemedicine system in Ghana in 2011. This system allows frontline health workers to connect with medical specialists across the country. Available 24/7, doctors and specialists at teleconsultation centers provide advice for treatments and help manage emergency cases.

Increasing Literacy Through Online Education

According to the Pew Research Center, the large majority of surveyed sub-Saharan Africans believe that “the increasing use of the internet has had a good influence on education in their country.” As internet access has increased dramatically in recent years, digital learning has become a more promising opportunity to improve literacy rates in the region. Also, because more people own smartphones, online learning resources are more widely available and ubiquitous.

Digital learning is a more cost-effective way to increase access to education, which will directly benefit impoverished communities. Educated people are more likely to be employed, earn a higher income, participate in politics and ensure that their children are also educated. Therefore, increased access to education can lift individuals and communities out of poverty — having a lasting, positive impact on the sub-Saharan region as a whole.

Looking Ahead

Numerous governments, telecommunications providers, nonprofit organizations and private companies have invested in sub-Saharan Africa’s internet connectivity in the last decade. Telecom providers have expanded internet connectivity by selling and distributing solar off-grid kits to individuals. This, in turn, also helps to promote renewable energy in the region. In May 2020, Facebook, along with African and global telecom partners, announced plans to build 37,000 kilometers of subsea cable infrastructure. This project, called 2Africa, will create a direct high-speed internet connection between 16 African countries, Europe and the Middle East.

Overall, as internet access expands across sub-Saharan Africa, more people will be able to access digital services with extensive socioeconomic benefits. Telemedicine and online education are accessible only to those with a reliable internet connection. However, these benefits can have a massive impact on health, literacy and poverty rates in sub-Saharan Africa — especially in rural communities.

Rachel Powell
Photo: Flickr

Internet in KenyaLoon, a company division of Google, is using balloons to provide internet in Kenya. The Kenyan government is collaborating with Loon to provide more substantial 4G coverage since many areas of Kenya have poor service. In the future, Loon hopes to expand to other areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. Loon is hoping to expedite the process of sending balloons to Kenya because of the increased demand for information during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Importance of Internet Access

UNESCO estimates that 45% of households worldwide do not have internet access. In Africa, 72% of people are unable to use the internet because companies do not see the need to travel to remote locations with less robust populations. Loon is looking to change these statistics by focusing its services in remote areas so people can use apps to communicate with each other.

Internet services help empower people in poverty by offering opportunities for education. Many students in rural areas do not have schools near them, so students rely on quality education through the internet. The Kenya Education Network (KENET) works to bring internet and laptops to various schools in Kenya. KENET has already invested $2 million in supplying free high-speed internet. The internet has become an essential need for educational purposes; Loon’s work will elevate people’s access to these important services.

Are Balloons Reliable To Provide Internet Access?

Loon used its balloons in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria destroyed the cellular towers. The balloons were deployed to provide immediate internet access for people on the island. Before the official launch, Loon tested out 35 balloons, which led to 35 thousand people being able to access the internet in rural Kenya.

Now that Loon is working to send out more balloons, the company is hoping to cover 31 thousand miles. The balloons are effective for providing internet coverage because they work like normal cell towers. The signal is transmitted for 100 days by software controlled from the ground.

The Future of Reliable Internet In Kenya

Loon expects to deploy more balloons in the future through a partnership with Telkom Kenya. Kenya is one of the leading technological countries in Africa. From 2019 to 2020, an increase of 3.2 million people accessed the internet in Kenya.

One of the barriers for people in poverty in accessing the internet is high-cost data plans. Kenya has higher data prices than other surrounding countries. An unlimited data plan in Nigeria can cost around $26, but the same plan in Kenya allows for only 50GB of data. In Kenya, 36.1% of people live below the poverty line, so many Kenyans do not make more than $1 each day. Cellular data plans are still unobtainable for some of the population.

While the Kenyan government is looking to provide a better signal to rural areas, residents may not have the money to pay for cellular services. Access to more service areas through Loon and cheaper data prices through Telkom Kenya could help increase people’s connectivity.

Sarah Litchney
Photo: Pixabay

Quingyuan's Agricultural Sector
With the ability to connect people faster than ever, 5G has transformed Quingyuan’s agricultural sector from an impoverished community to a thriving online agricultural production center in less than a year.

How can 5G Alleviate Poverty?

5G is better than 4G for three main reasons: higher bandwidth, lower latency (lag time) and much faster speeds. The implications of 5G are endless for these reasons. Specifically, 5G can alleviate poverty by driving economic growth. The Imperial College of London found that a 10% increase of mobile broadband, or more commonly known as wireless internet access, is associated with a 0.6-2.8% increase in economic growth.

Installation of 5G in Quingyuan

Quingyuan is home to over 3 million people. It is a city located in northern Guangdong, a coastal province in South China. Quingyuan became China’s first administrative village to be covered by 5G networks, two months ahead of schedule. Citizens in Quingyuan began using 5G last fall with the installation of two 5G base stations.

Guangdong’s Goals for 5G

According to the Agricultural and Rural Affairs Department of Guangdong Province, Guangdong will use 5G to further assist the country’s rural revitalization strategy. The overall goal of the rural revitalization strategy is to provide rural areas with the necessary tools so the citizens can have pleasant living conditions, thriving businesses and prosperity. Guangdong plans to focus on building both a 5G smart agricultural pilot zone and, ultimately, a 5G agricultural industrial cluster. 5G would allow farmers to utilize technology to monitor their crops and host webcasts to sell them.

Intelligent Agriculture

In the Lianyi village of Quingyuan, farmers are using an intelligent agricultural base to increase labor input while alleviating poverty. The intelligent agricultural base is a targeted poverty reduction project from Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., Ltd. There are 10 planting areas in the agricultural base, which covers an area of more than 16 acres. The agricultural base uses advanced technology to manage and monitor the crops, which increases the traceability of agricultural products. The system has irrigation pipes and a weather station to monitor the environment as well.

After the execution of the project, the land rental income of villagers increased by around $6,298. The working income of poor households and villagers also saw an increase of about $57,109 after the implementation of the project.

Webcasts

Another way 5G has transformed Quingyuan’s agricultural sector is allowing farmers to host live-streaming promotions, which substantially increase the number of customers that local farmers can reach. Lu Feihong, secretary of the Party branch of the Lianzhang village in Quingyuan, noted that “5G not only facilitates access to the Internet, but also establishes good conditions for [farmers] to develop smart agriculture and e-agricultural businesses through live streaming promotions.”

According to Feihong, watermelon farmers sold their entire harvest, totaling more than 55,000 lb, in May 2020. A yam farmer experienced a similar situation when he was able to sell his entire harvest of 16,000 lb worth of Chinese yams after an online webcast that attracted more than 400,000 viewers.

5G transformed Quingyuan’s agricultural sector and helped farmers in the city maintain, and even increase, their incomes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Araceli Mercer
Photo: Flickr

internet access in africaIn most developed countries, paper consumption has quickly been reduced as digital resources have offered a more efficient alternative to the traditional pen and paper. However, digital technologies are used neither equally nor to their fullest extent around the world. In many African countries, for example, a 5GB movie could take hours to download. In Singapore, however, that same 5GB movie could be downloaded in less than 12 minutes. As a continent, Africa’s access to high bandwidth internet ranks among some of the lowest compared to the rest of the world. In a growing digital age, it is nearly impossible to thrive when the minimum technological requirements are not met as a continent.

Internet Access in Africa

According to InternetWorldStats, roughly 39% of Africa’s entire population had access to the internet as of December 2019. As of 2019, “17.8% of households in Africa had internet access at home“, and “10.7% of households in Africa had a computer.” These percentages might seem low considering that computer technology is more prevalent than ever before. In Africa, however, high-quality internet access is a luxury many people cannot afford.

Barriers to Internet Access

Affordability is the biggest issue concerning internet access in Africa. Internet access in many African countries is expensive compared to countries outside of the continent. Africa as a whole has the least affordable internet prices on the planet. In the Alliance for Affordable Internet’s annual affordability report for 2019, it stated that “across Africa, the average cost for just 1GB data is 7.12% of the average monthly salary.” To put it in perspective, if the average U.S. consumer had to pay 7.12% of his or her average monthly salary for internet access, it would cost nearly $373 per month to access only 1GB of data.

Solutions

Although the amount of people who have high bandwidth internet access in Africa is low today, numerous organizations are working to close the continent’s digital divide. For instance, an initiative called the Africa Digital Moonshot aims to digitally connect all facets of life in Africa by 2030. Some of the “Moonshot Objectives” include:

  1. Establishing more digital infrastructure

  2. Teaching basic digital skills and literacy

  3. Increasing the amount digital platforms

  4. Making Digital financial services more accessible

  5. Expanding upon digital entrepreneurship

To see this dream come to fruition, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development laid out the first goal for the initiative in a past report: doubling Africa’s broadband connectivity from its current number by 2021. If this is achieved by next year, the plan to implement good quality, universal internet access in Africa by 2030 is on schedule. Although these developments are necessary for improving internet access in Africa, they come with a hefty price tag, since roughly $100 billion is needed to cover numerous implementations (such as infrastructure, legal costs and network management.) Even though the goal hasn’t been achieved yet, internet access rates in Africa are moving in a positive direction. Moreover, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development is closer than ever to reaching its Seven 2025 Targets for worldwide, universal high bandwidth internet access.

The Economy and Internet Access

Experts also have stressed the critical role high bandwidth internet access in Africa will have for boosting Africa’s economy in the future. Makhtar Diop, the World Banks’ Vice President for Infrastructure, stated that “the digital agenda is first and foremost a growth and jobs agenda.” He goes on to explain that “broadening internet access means creating millions of job opportunities.” When it comes to job creation, universal internet access not only improves domestic business but it also allows for more participation in marketplaces worldwide. For many Africa countries, e-commerce is heavily underutilized, but installing suitable, accessible internet throughout the continent can make conducting e-commerce internationally a top priority for most African businesses.

Given the positive progress Africa has made over the past 20 years concerning internet access, many are optimistic about the continent’s online presence development for the near future. E-commerce, telehealth, mobile education and many other virtual alternatives are slowly becoming more prevalent throughout Africa. The necessary first steps toward improving internet access in Africa have yielded positive results, and these plans for improving access are only the beginning of the continent’s untapped digital potential.

– Maxwell Karibian
Photo: Flickr

Starlink Satellite System
As the world progresses through the 21st century, the internet has become an invaluable tool. In the United States, people widely use it for educational purposes. Unfortunately, the developing world is not so lucky. With Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system, people across the planet should be able to gain access to high-speed internet.

The primary challenge with providing high-speed internet across the globe lies with the cost of fiber optic cables. It is very expensive to obtain and supply to certain areas of the world. On the other hand, using a satellite system to create connections in a vacuum is around 47 percent more efficient and does not require the use of fiber optic cables.

How Starlink Will Connect the World

Musk’s plan is to send 42,000 satellites into orbit. This substantial goal by SpaceX might be a dream, but a large number is necessary to ensure fast and widespread connections across the planet.

People who use the Starlink satellite system would require a device called a Starlink Terminal in their homes. It is a simple tool that they would plug in and point towards the sky. For those in hard-to-reach areas and whose internet connections are slow, this is fantastic news.

Ultimately, the hope is to provide all those who cannot obtain a strong internet connection with the means to connect with the world. The first step of the plan is to provide broadband internet to the west first and expand it into the developing world shortly thereafter.

The Global Impact of a Connected World

Global connectivity would provide an opportunity for anyone to receive the same education despite geographical location. Some of the latest reports regarding primary school-aged children in sub-Saharan Africa have indicated that 59 percent drop out of school.

Additionally, the quality of education is poor; many children across the globe are unable to read at a basic level. The main concerns surrounding the lack of education include cost, quality of teaching and a lack of schools and teachers. Fortunately, the Starlink satellite system could provide connectivity to reduce cost, provide proper tools and improve access to education.

The Starlink Terminal would cost between $100-$300 and several people could conceivably share it. A shared cost between multiple people, perhaps a school, would increase the affordability of the Starlink satellite system and terminal.

A growing global economy would likely also result from the Starlink satellite system. Specifically, the system has an extremely low latency for information transfer. This could give people in developing areas of the world more opportunity to participate in local and global stock markets.

Further, since the Starlink satellite system would likely be the fastest internet connection in the world, most of the financial markets would undoubtedly use it. Financial organizations using the system would provide customers the ability to send and receive money at the same rate, no matter the geographic location. Ultimately, the use of the Starlink satellite system would aid in the fight against global poverty by allowing the communities to participate in activities that developed nations regularly have access to.

The Timeline

As of right now, 362 Starlink satellites are orbiting the world and more should launch every other week. However, the recent pandemic might slow down the time frame.

Prior to COVID-19, the expectation was to have all 42,000 satellites orbiting by the end of 2021. Eventually, there will be enough satellites in orbit to provide global coverage. Even if the Starlink satellite system implementation takes more time than Elon Musk originally intended, the potential benefits are difficult to ignore.

The Starlink satellite system has the capacity to connect the entire world, changing the way people around the globe interact with one another.

Drew Pinney
Photo: Wikimedia