Mexico's Digital Divide
Since 2013, Mexico’s constitution has guaranteed internet access for all within its borders. Mexico was the first country to ever make such a promise to its people. However, in spite of what the constitution says, only around half of Mexico’s population of roughly 129 million people have access to the internet. The vast majority of those who do have internet access live in the country’s wealthier areas while most of those who do not have it live in the poorest areas. People know this gap in access due to income inequality as Mexico’s “digital divide.”

The Importance of Universal Internet Access

Internet access is pivotal for reducing global poverty, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the internet, people have greater access to education, which is important when schools are not in session and learning is remote. The children of families who lack internet access and equipment to connect to it fall behind in school and may drop or fail out. Access to the internet also enables people to speak with health care professionals digitally, whether for physical or mental health purposes. The pandemic has caused an increase in mental health crises as well as suicide. The internet allows people to find resources to help them through crises.

Internet access is also useful for communication. With it, people can reach out to family and friends on social media. They can contact their leaders via email or get their mailing information and phone numbers. If people in poverty do not know the proper ways to get in touch with policymakers, they cannot effectively advocate for legislation that improves poverty and officials will not know how many of their constituents want such legislation.

Along with improving communication and access to services, internet access improves commerce through online buying and selling. This benefit to commerce in conjunction with the jobs internet infrastructure and activity create boosts the economy while lifting people out of poverty. Thus, internet access contributes greatly to reducing poverty, yet less than half of Mexico’s population has access to the internet.

Why Mexico’s Digital Divide Exists

In Mexico, the richest states have a larger percentage of households with internet access than the poorest states. For example, in Sonora and Baja California Sur, 72% and 76% of households have internet access respectively. Meanwhile, in Chiapas and Oaxaca, only 13% and 21% of households have internet. Part of the reason for Mexico’s digital divide is the former monopoly the firm Carlos Slim held that kept prices for data plans and internet connections too high for lower-income households.

Prior to 2013, Mexico’s people did not have guaranteed internet access, and internet-related investments went toward wealthier areas that already had access. Part of the reason for this was the mindset it would be more worthwhile to invest further in the richest areas instead of the poorer ones. The internet also gives people with access to it more of a voice, the communicating of their wants and needs quicker than the wants and needs of people without the internet. However, the Mexican government is making greater efforts to expand internet access to everyone.

Measures to End Mexico’s Digital Divide

Since amending the constitution in 2013, Mexico has invested almost $1 billion into its “Mexico Conectado” initiative. This initiative focuses on ensuring public facilities such as schools and libraries in rural areas have broadband connections. This way, even if people do not have the internet at home, they can go somewhere to access it for free. Additionally, the country has created about 7,200 computing hubs. These locations not only provide free internet but also teach visitors how to use the web, build resumes and learn other skills.

Mexico has experienced an increase in internet users following the breaking up of Carlos Slim’s monopoly as well. The government’s dismantling of the firm’s monopoly has allowed for more competition among providers in the Mexican market, giving people more affordable options in terms of plans, services and providers. The country saw a drop in the percentage of people in poverty, from 46% to 43% by 2016, after guaranteeing internet access and eliminating the communications monopoly.

The disaster relief group Team Rubicon and the NGO NetHope have also been working to get free internet access to refugees, migrants and NGOs aiding them. Together, they set up networks and Wi-Fi for centers serving refugees and migrants while establishing local access points anyone can use. Having internet access enables refugees and migrants to keep in touch with friends and family in addition to staying informed about disasters they may be fleeing from.

The Future of Internet Access in Mexico

Though Mexico’s digital divide remains large, and the constitution’s guarantee of internet access for all remains unfulfilled, the situation is continuing to improve. The number of internet users, providers and facilities with free internet access is increasing. With the expansion of the internet comes the reduction of poverty. Once Mexico’s digital divide finally closes, the country will see significant economic benefits.

– Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr

Philippine Internet Access
On October 28, 2021, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) officially announced its new project, Better Access and Connectivity (BEACON). USAID is partnering with the Philippine government to expand Philippine internet access to bridge the digital gap in the Philippines.

About the Philippines as a Developing Country

Although the Philippines enjoys a high literacy rate and strong human and natural resources, the country still ranks only slightly higher than 0.7 on the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI, which weighs factors including life expectancy, education and GDP, considers any country under 0.8 a developing country. The Philippines is 111th of 189 countries ranked in the index. USAID has partnered with the Philippines for decades to improve the Philippines’ status on the HDI. BEACON is its latest initiative in that work even though expanding internet accessibility is difficult in most developing nations.

Internet Accessibility in Developing Nations

The World Bank has declared internet access a fundamental human right in all nations alike, regardless of their development status. With that said, the World Bank also estimates that, currently, only 35% of the population in developing countries has internet access.

Using this statistic, the World Data Lab has created a secondary comparison for individuals living in poverty without internet access. Those living with this criteria live in the framework of “internet poverty.” Living in internet poverty, one cannot afford the minimum reliable internet, which is 1.5 gigabytes of internet download speed per month. This notion of internet poverty equates to the extreme poverty line, where an individual lives off of $1.90 per day.

Internet Accessibility in the Philippines

Besides not being a widespread commodity, the internet in the Philippines is extremely slow. In 2020, the country ranked 119th of 139 countries for mobile speed and 106th of 174 countries for broadband speed.  One of the reasons the internet in the Philippines is limited is because only two companies — Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) and Globe — currently provide internet connectivity and services. This contrasts with the dial-up era when over 300 independent companies provided service in the Philippines. As a result of having just two providers, internet service costs in the Philippines are some of the highest in the world.

Congressional Holdup

There are many Philippine congressional bills to improve the internet in the Philippines, specifically the Better Internet Connection Act. This Act requires the Philippine internet-providing companies to provide a minimum speed of 10 megabytes of internet access per second to all subscribers’ devices. However, unfortunately, this bill has remained in Congressional review. The lack of passage gave USAID further impetus to launch the BEACON Project.

How The BEACON Project will Help the Philippines’ Internet

The BEACON Project will cost $1.65 billion Philippine pesos, equivalent to $33 million. This project will expand internet access, beginning with underserved communities. It will bolster economic growth by providing stronger information and communications technology (ICT). The BEACON Project will also support the government in digitization and automation efforts. By providing the funding for internet improvement, USAID takes the burden off of the Philippine government. Finally, introducing more reliable internet in the Philippines could open jobs and provide support for businesses.

The Philippines has already succeeded in expanding internet access through its entry into Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector. By 2016, the Philippines outpaced India as a call center hub. The Philippines’ BPO sector enjoyed a 10% compound annual growth rate during the decade ending in 2016. The BEACON Project will allow the Philippines to escalate modernization for companies. This should also open additional business sectors and expand job opportunities.

Outlook for the Future

The Philippines has struggled with internet connectivity, unreliable speeds and high prices for years. Internet in the Philippines is a necessity, and Philippine internet access is pertinent to eliminating poverty and ridding the Philippines of its label as a ‘developing country’ by the HDI.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Digital Gap
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the internet has provided solutions to many of our current problems. As the pandemic prevented us from meeting in person, schools and businesses took to the internet for a new way of working together. Shockingly, as almost half of the world lacks access to the internet, COVID-19 also amplified the digital gap.

The Digital Gap

According to a recent United Nations International Children’s Fund – International Telecommunications Union (UNICEF-ITU) report, two-thirds of the world’s school-aged children do not have internet access at home. Worldwide, hundreds of millions of children are still relying on online learning due to the pandemic, and lack of internet access prevents these children from receiving an education.

The digital gap further highlights class divides. Rural and lower-income students struggle more than urban and students from higher-income households. Fifty-eight percent of school-aged children from the richest households have internet access at home, while only 16% of the poorest students have access. This means that the education of 1.3 billion children education is at risk.

Additionally, the majority of those without internet access are in the poorest countries. These are also the countries where access to information on COVID-19 may be most important. According to the World Bank, 85% of Africans live on less than $5.50 a day. In Africa, one gigabyte of data costs nearly 8% of the average income. For reference, one gigabyte is enough data to stream a standard definition film for one hour.

During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis reinforces social inequality for those with insecure jobs and jobs in public settings. It also amplifies the gap between those living in packed housing communities and those with no health insurance. In turn, the digital gap worsens the effects of COVID-19. Without internet access, people are unable to find current and vital information on the disease and how to handle it. Those without access are also prevented from communicating with others about the pandemic. The pandemic most heavily affects the elderly, unemployed and uneducated who are the groups who use the internet the least.

How to Close the Digital Gap

In order to protect children’s education and to allow poor people a better chance to compete in the modern economy, it is essential to close the digital gap. To address this issue, the world must also address the issues of global poverty and weak infrastructure.

The affordability of internet access is a major factor in the digital gap. Personal devices including laptops and smartphones are costly. Further, taxes, patent fees and electricity make them even more expensive. Financing people who cannot afford technology is one path to address this issue. Implementing tariff subsidies that lower the domestic price is a second possibility.

Additionally, the public needs an education about the value and resources of the internet, and the internet needs to be relevant and accessible. First, people also need to learn how to properly use it. Due to lack of relevance, people struggle to find online content, services or applications in their primary language. In rural and poor areas, many people lack the education to understand much of the content online. In a World Economic Forum meeting, Achim Steiner, administrator of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), emphasized the importance of making technology that is inclusive.

Giga: A Program to Close the Gap

In 2019, UNICEF and ITU launched a global initiative called Giga. Giga has the goal of providing every school and its surrounding community with access to the internet. Giga has collaborated with governments to collect data and map out over 800,000 schools in 30 countries. Using this information, Giga works with governments, industries and private sector partners to create investment cases for blended public-private funding. This public-private funding will be used to build the needed connectivity infrastructures.

The digital gap is a crisis that highlights class divisions; lack of access to sufficient technology puts people at a disadvantage. COVID-19 has amplified the gap, but it has also accelerated the digital transition because it has made collaborations to close the digital gap that much more urgent. Giga and similar global initiatives that foster public-private funding have great promise to spearhead the digital gap closure. They also have the promise to transition the world to more inclusive technology.

– Jacqueline Zembek
Photo: Flickr

Internet Accessibility in the Dominican Republic
Intelsat, an international satellite communications organization, is partnering “with coreNOC, Audio Union International and KM Systems and an undisclosed capital fund” to deliver affordable high-speed internet to rural areas of the Dominican Republic. In collaboration with the Dominican Republic government, the endeavor will help provide “a nationwide wireless internet and infrastructure system for the Ministry of Education.” Expanding internet accessibility in the Dominican Republic will benefit schoolchildren in the more rural and impoverished regions of the Dominican Republic by allowing them access to quality learning materials and lessons. The endeavor will also create more jobs in the telecommunications sector in the Dominican Republic, aiding in economic growth.

Internet Access in the Dominican Republic

Approximately 15% of the Dominican Republic’s population, or approximately 1.6 million people, live in rural areas. In these areas, internet accessibility has lagged. In 2016, internet accessibility in the Dominican Republic reached slightly more than 50% of the country’s population.

Adding and maintaining internet access is expensive and Dominican rural residents are often more impoverished than the rest of the island. The poverty in the rural sections of the Dominican Republic stems from the destruction of recurring natural disasters as well as an unproductive agricultural sector.

Benefiting School Children

In the Dominican Republic, in 2018, only 69% of children in rural areas had access to the internet. As a nation with “one of the world’s worst education systems,” in 2014, the Dominican Republic committed to reforming its education system by updating the curriculum and building better classrooms. Adding internet accessibility to classrooms has “the potential to improve the quality of education.” According to dotmagazine, the internet “opens doorways to a wealth of information, knowledge and educational resources, increasing opportunities for learning in and beyond the classroom.” In addition, “interactive teaching methods, supported by the internet, enable teachers to give more attention to individual students’ needs and support shared learning.”

As Dominican students progress from one education level to another, studies note a high dropout rate. Many students drop out of school to provide an income for their families. Others want to avoid adding further financial stress on their household with the costs of school. However, a lack of education significantly impacts an individual’s earning potential. A survey that the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic conducted in 2015 shows that students with a high school degree “earn more than 30% higher” incomes than individuals who only completed primary school. In general, a better quality education decreases overall poverty rates and the internet has the potential to increase the quality of education in the Dominican Republic.

Benefiting the Dominican Republic Workforce

Increased internet accessibility in the Dominican Republic will bring more jobs to the rural areas of the Dominican Republic. Most telecommunications jobs exist in larger cities, such as Santo Domingo. In July 2021, the Inter-American Development Bank proposed a project to improve internet connectivity in the Dominican Republic. This project alone could generate more than 33,000 local jobs. Furthermore, the World Bank estimates that with each telecommunication job generated, two to four more jobs emerge across other business sectors too.

Looking Ahead

The Dominican Republic’s poverty rate reached about 23% in 2020. Research suggests that improving internet access also increases the chances of lower poverty and unemployment rates. Intelsat’s proposed plan to improve internet accessibility in the Dominican Republic means that the nation can expect similar positive outcomes.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

TrueheartMarried couple Amy and Scott Malin allow people to transform the lives of the poor with just one click. In late June 2021, the couple developed a search engine called Trueheart, enabling individuals to donate merely by surfing on the website. About 80% of the search engine’s proceeds go toward six major nonprofit companies including Smile Train, Action Against Hunger, Global Green, 4 Paws for Ability, PFLAG National and the Variety Boys & Girls Club.

Why Amy and Scott Malin Created Trueheart

Amy and Scott Malin made it possible to search and donate with Trueheart so that anyone can make an impact worldwide. Because the couple values honesty, they have made a website where people can view what the donations go toward. Inspirational video and image content show the benefits of the proceeds. As a result, this encourages people to click and donate as the donors view the significant influence of others collaborating to change the world.

Also, according to Authority Magazine, Scott stated that he and his wife support utilizing technology in a positive way where people who care about improving society can join forces. In addition, Amy noted that helping the less fortunate is important to their family. For example, the couple helps people by aiding low-income households, donating food to the homeless, cheering up sick children and children without their parents over the holidays and more.

Trueheart’s Celebration

Look To The Stars also reported that, in celebration of Trueheart’s introduction, “Beverly Hills 90210” star and “The Masked Dancer” panel member Brian Austin Green and “Dancing With The Stars” expert performer Sharna Burgess will collaborate to present the #Search4Smiles promotion. This promotion will assist Smile Train in treating babies and kids with cleft lips globally. If this condition does not receive treatment, it can cause challenges with food consumption, breathing, listening and talking. Smile Train has helped to treat over 1.5 million kids with cleft lips worldwide for 21 years. Thus, since people can search and donate free with Trueheart, people can significantly reduce this condition’s global impact.

More About Smile Train

According to the Smile Train website, the company trains and funds healthcare practitioners in more than 70 nations worldwide to help cleft patients at no cost. Babies and children that have clefts require more than merely surgical procedures. It may also be crucial for them to receive help with eating, chewing and speaking. Smile Train provides services for children in low-income areas. For instance, the company’s surgeons can finish a surgery in less than an hour. In addition, dentists are available to provide tooth care for children with cleft lips. Smile Train also supports kids with cleft lips emotionally as the children tend to suffer from scarring, speech impediments, low self-confidence and more. Other celebrities that support the organization include Kylie Jenner, Karrueche Tran, Quincy Brown and Howie Mandel.

Helping People Made Simple

According to Amy Malin, people often think that if they do not have fame or money to spare, that they will not have a significant impact. With support from celebrities, she and Scott Malin have made it possible for anyone to search and donate free with Trueheart. As a final point, Amy stated that many people wish to help change the world and now people can, even in a small way, by clicking and searching on Trueheart via cellular devices, tablets and computers.

– Jannique McDonald
Photo: Flickr

Cell ServiceWhen a hurricane rips through a Caribbean island, news sites often report the destruction of buildings, damaged roads and lost lives. However, one of the most important things that people lose in a natural disaster is often invisible to a spectator’s eye: cellular connectivity. Cell service is crucial to life in the Caribbean islands, just as it is around the world. When Caribbean countries lose cell service, rescue operations, the economy and society itself grind to a halt. That is why many people have been developing creative ways to ensure cellular access during natural disasters.

In 2017, Hurricane Maria destroyed 75% of Puerto Rico’s cell towers, which deprived 91% of Puerto Ricans of their cell service. The most immediate effect of losing service was the inability of rescue teams to find or assist survivors. For weeks after the disaster, large parts of the island remained unable to communicate with the rest of the world to tell people about the island’s condition.

Rebuilding After Hurricane Maria

The lack of internet and cellular service proved a chronic problem for Puerto Rico as it attempted to rebuild after Hurricane Maria. Businesses were unable to advertise or sell their goods, and people could not coordinate rebuilding projects.

Even a year after Hurricane Maria, 10% of small businesses had not reopened and 40% of the population had lost their jobs or were earning less than they had before the hurricane. Estimates of the total financial cost of the hurricane range from $43 billion to $159 billion.

Cell Service and Subscriptions

In Puerto Rico, the internet is so important that the poorest 40% of the population pay about one-fifth of their income for broadband service. The rest of the Caribbean is equally dependent on connectivity. In most Caribbean countries, there are more cell subscriptions than people. The island nation of Dominica, for example, had 152 cell subscriptions for every 100 people in 2014. While other Caribbean countries have been lucky enough to avoid destruction on the scale of Puerto Rico, cellular and internet access after hurricanes is a region-wide problem.

Organizations Helping

Various organizations have proposed many innovations that could provide access to cell service and the internet in the aftermath of a disaster. One potential solution is internet balloons. These are huge balloons that float more than 12 miles in the air and grant internet access to huge swathes of land. Such balloons can undergo quick deployment in the wake of catastrophe and remain in the sky for as long as necessary. Unfortunately, Google’s Loon, the largest maker of these balloons, has shut down. As a result, the future of the idea is in doubt.

Other solutions also exist. Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) is a special way of sending radio signals in disaster situations. TETRA is a decentralized system, so it can broadcast from boats, storm shelters, planes and countless other mediums.

TETRA is also a two-way system, allowing people to communicate with each other in addition to a central broadcaster. Several Caribbean nations, such as the Dominican Republic, already use TETRA systems to provide both warning and relief to the public.

Natural disasters are inevitable, and so much depends on a country’s ability to respond to and recover from them. Perhaps no factor is as important for recovery as good cellular and internet service. New technology will hopefully ensure that connectivity continues when people most need it.

– Thomas Brodey
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Engineering Good On April 7, 2020, Singapore commenced its Circuit Breaker — a series of measures designed to restrict social interaction — in an effort to safeguard the country from COVID-19. The government eased the restrictions after June 1, 2020, but the economic consequences reverberated long after, including a spike in unemployment and an estimated GDP contraction of 2.2%. As in other countries, low-income families in Singapore were more adversely affected by the pandemic and the disruptions that came with it. Impoverished Singaporeans felt a disproportionate impact, particularly in education, as students transitioned to home-based learning in compliance with Circuit Breaker measures. Parents and children from low-income households felt the proverbial rug pulled from under their feet as they scrambled to access laptops and reliable Wi-Fi routers and struggled to create an environment conducive to learning. Fortunately, Engineering Good stepped in to help with its Computers Against COVID campaign.

Engineering Good

Engineering Good, a Singapore-based charity established in 2014, supports low-income families and people with disabilities by improving their digital literacy and access to technology. Responding to the urgent need for laptops that arose due to home-based learning, Engineering Good refurbished secondhand laptops for low-income families in Singapore. The project became its flagship campaign, Computers Against COVID.

Computers Against COVID

The Computers Against COVID campaign began when the South Central Community Family Center reached out to Engineering Good requesting 24 laptops for low-income families in Singapore to support households’ home-based learning efforts. Leveraging the power of social media, the charity made requests to the public to donate their old laptops and computer accessories.

The response to Engineering Good’s social media campaign was overwhelming. Within two weeks, the charity had recruited more than 100 volunteers and received more than 600 laptops as donations. In an interview with The Peak Magazine, the executive director of Engineering Good, Johann Annuar, attributed the campaign’s success to Singaporean people’s desires to give back to society. The goodwill of donors and volunteers has enabled what was meant to be a one-weekend project of fixing a few laptops to transform into a more than year-long community endeavor.

As of May 2021, Engineering Good has refurbished and donated more than 4,000 laptops for low-income families in Singapore. The charity continues to receive requests of up to 200 laptops each month and works with around 200 social service organizations that help identify those most in need.

Continuing to Fight Digital Inequality

Given the Computers Against COVID campaign’s success, Engineering Good is now looking to transform the project into a long-term, sustainable initiative. The charity hopes to continue providing laptops and technical expertise to anyone in need, whether it be for home-based learning or other purposes, such as remote work. Invigorated by a sense of purpose, the organization’s volunteers are eager to continue making a difference, especially after realizing, as one volunteer described it, that “an extremely tiny sacrifice’’ of one’s time to fix a computer could potentially transform a family’s life for years.

While the issue of digital inequality has long loomed large in Singapore, COVID-19’s subversion of work and student life has accentuated the urgency with which both the public and nonprofit sectors must address the digital divide. As Engineering Good supports low-income families through laptop repair and other services, public demand for further government action is growing. As Singapore’s digital divide closes, impoverished families are able to participate in endeavors that educate and empower them, allowing disadvantaged Singaporeans to rise out of poverty.

Vyas Nageswaran
Photo: Flickr

Expanding Internet Access in the DRCIn today’s digital age, the internet is a norm in many people’s lives, as nearly 4.66 billion active internet users exist worldwide. People use the internet for communication, research, gaming and e-commerce. Yet, most citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have no access whatsoever to the internet. Only about 20 million people out of 100 million people living in the DRC have access to the internet. However, changes are occurring in the DRC. Nearly 9 million people in the last few years have gained access to the internet due to technology companies investing in the development of the internet in the DRC. Likewise, Liquid Intelligent Technologies (LIT) and Facebook are partnering to build a massive fiber network in the DRC. Here is some information about how they are expanding internet access in the DRC.

How LIT is Expanding Internet Access in the DRC

Liquid Intelligent Technologies plans on building a 2,000-kilometer-long fiber-optic cable network from the DRC to the Atlantic Ocean. From there, it will connect with the 2Africa submarine cable system, which Facebook has a major role in developing.

On completion, the undersea cable network will better connect the DRC to Europe and the Middle East. It will help complete LIT’s two-year-long project to build a vast digital pathway from the Atlantic Ocean connecting to East Africa and the Indian Ocean, where millions of people would gain access to the internet. In addition, it will bridge the democratic republic with its neighboring countries of Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia.

Facebook has invested in this operation and helped plan the fiber network, but LIT will be the company to build and own the fibre network. It also plans to provide internet service providers and services to network operators to take advantage of the fibre network. Thus, the company estimates that nearly 30 million people in the DRC will gain access to the internet.

However, the effort that is necessary will not be easy. “This is one of the most difficult fibre builds ever undertaken, crossing more than 2,000 km of some of the most challenging terrain in the world,” said Nic Rudnick, CEO of Liquid Intelligent Technologies. To help build the network, LIT will hire nearly 5,000 locals from communities in the Congo, employing many people and families in the DRC.

Why Internet Access in the Congo is Nonexistent

Government policies on censorship and high Wi-Fi costs ensure that the Congolese have no access to the internet. The government passed a censorship policy in 2002, called law No. 013/2002, which has the power to control telecommunications in the DRC. It grants the government the power to control telecommunications to defend the public or in the interest of national security. If telecommunication companies don’t comply with this law, they risk getting their operating licenses terminated. This forces many ISPs to shut off the internet.

Due to manipulation of this law, the Democratic Republic of Congo has cut off the internet, text-messaging services and social media services multiple times such as Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp to stifle civil and peaceful protests occurring in the country. In addition, the country is suffering economically as it is losing $2 million every day due to the termination of internet services.

Buying one gigabyte of mobile broadband data in the DRC costs a staggering 26% of monthly income. This makes the DRC the most expensive country to get access to the internet in the world because there are no rules regulating caps on internet prices. Additionally, customers bear the burden of high taxes on telecommunication companies. These reasons allow telecommunication companies to raise prices to an extreme.

Companies like Liquid Intelligent Technologies are expanding internet access in the DRC. However, the government will need to make changes in censorship policies on the internet, to ensure every Congolese can experience the joys of the internet.

Matthew Port Louis
Photo: Flickr

internet access in MoldovaMoldova is among the European countries with the highest poverty rate. However, it has made significant progress in reducing poverty since becoming independent from the Soviet Union, with the national poverty rate decreasing “from 28% in 2010 to 13% by 2018.” Furthermore, over the past two decades, Moldova’s GDP has risen by an annual rate of roughly 4.6%, largely due to consumption and the significance of remittances. Although COVID-19 has stalled progress in poverty reduction, potentially even reversing progress, there is hope for Moldova to get back on track to economic growth and advancement. Widespread internet access in Moldova may help the country strengthen and recover.

Small Country, Vast Internet

Despite the tiny country’s high poverty rate, internet access in Moldova ranks among the best in the world. Roughly 90% of Moldova’s population enjoys “superfast gigabit internet access.” While “the United States is twice as urbanized as Moldova, its gigabit coverage” reaches only 18% of the population. Only South Korea and Singapore, both much wealthier and more urbanized than Moldova, boast better coverage. The rest of the top 10 countries for gigabit coverage rank among the world’s 40 wealthiest nations globally. Meanwhile, Moldova ranks as only the 98th wealthiest nation in the world.

Since the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991, the international community has provided Moldova with grants and loans aimed at spurring economic growth and reducing poverty. The privatization of telecoms was a prerequisite in a developmental assistance offer from the World Bank in the late 2000s. To fulfill the condition, “a fiber optic cable was laid across” the Dniester River in 2009. Thanks to the new infrastructure, internet access became widespread as 99% of Moldovan communities were able to connect to the fiber optic network. Fiber optic cable also connects Moldova directly to Frankfurt in Germany, a major European digital hub.

Emigration and the Benefits of Connectivity

Moldova has high emigration rates —  as much as a quarter of the population live and work in Russia and other European countries, often illegally. As a consequence, Moldova is highly dependant on remittances. Many Moldovans working abroad purchase computers and send them to their families in Moldova for communication purposes. These communication methods require internet access, boosting the demand for internet access in Moldova even further.

Thanks to Moldova’s excellent internet speeds and connectivity, many countries have begun outsourcing IT and call center jobs to Moldova. Italy, in particular, outsources many jobs to Moldova because many Moldovans speak Italian as a second language. These outsourced jobs serve to ignite economic growth in Moldova, providing citizens with employment opportunities and a way out of poverty.

Internet Access and Poverty Reduction

The internet is recognized as a tool that contributes to the social and economic development of a country. Internet access aids in the “delivery of essential services such as education and healthcare.” Through the internet, people have access to remote job opportunities that were once out of reach. Furthermore, the internet not only expands people’s access to job opportunities but also creates a demand for jobs in the technology and engineering sectors.

According to the World Bank, increasing “internet penetration to 75% of the population in all developing countries” would contribute up to $2 trillion to their combined GDPs. Furthermore, this rate of penetration would generate “more than 140 million jobs” globally.

Widespread internet access in Moldova may help the country to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic. With the added assistance of international powers already investing in the country, Moldova can pick up where it left off and continue its trend of poverty reduction.

Courtney Roe
Photo: Flickr

Online businesses in GhanaPreviously, issues such as limited internet and bank access and informal home addresses made digital selling challenging for Ghanaian companies. However, advancement in these areas has allowed online businesses to grow, creating jobs in Ghana. Many college graduates in Ghana have started digital companies selling a wide range of products, including bags, footwear, clothes, grocery items, electronic goods and advanced cellular devices, among others. Some start companies also offer services such as repairing, cosmetics, interior decorating and photoshoots digitally. The growth of such companies has enabled them to offer many different types of employment to a greater population in Ghana.

Job Creation

From consumer services to promotions, financing to administrative tasks, retail managing to image consulting, online selling has many job opportunities to offer in Ghana, which had a 4.5% employment rate in 2020. For example, while the digital firm Jumia employs only around 500 people directly in online work, it employs more than 10,000 people indirectly. Online work does not always require people to have advanced technological abilities, only a willingness to learn. Online businesses also create associated non-online jobs.

For example, when people purchase meals and other items digitally, they require delivery. Nowadays, many companies offer delivery by motorcycle or van, creating many delivery jobs. Online businesses in Ghana also provide new jobs through collection posts, which have become more popular during the pandemic. These posts provide a safe and convenient way for customers to collect their goods while minimizing their risk of exposure to COVID-19. Collection posts hire post managers, shipment organizers and receptionists. In addition, some companies, such as Jumia, have encouraged digital businesses to expand by allowing people to collect their online purchases in-store.

Working from Home and New Digitial Stores

Many online businesses offer home-based and other off-site positions. Working from home not only enhances employees’ welfare and decreases stress, but it also helps reduce pollution as fewer people have to travel to work. Virtual connections allow people to associate with a worldwide community and conveniently work and buy what they need without having to travel. Additionally, digital companies can more easily provide short-term work such as contract, part-time and freelance work, which also helps to reduce poverty.

Moreover, in May 2018, a digital food store named Homeshoppa Ghana was introduced in Accra, the country’s capital. Homeshoppa Ghana matches its competitors’ prices in order to provide easily accessible, low-cost, standard groceries to every citizen. Access to stores like Homeshoppa Ghana allows people living in poverty to buy essential items at low prices.

Internet Advancements

The introduction of higher internet speeds and advanced cellphones in Ghana has helped prepare the marketplace for online retailers. By the end of 2017, 10.1 million Ghanaians, or 34%, were using the internet. As of January this year, the number of internet users had increased to 15.7 million. As more people begin to use the internet, online businesses are creating more new jobs in Ghana.

Jannique McDonald
Photo: Unsplash