Zambian Towns
To improve the state of the network in Zambia, back in November 2022, Paratus Zambia and Meta announced the building of a 900 km open-access metro fiber network in 10 Zambian towns. That will allow people in underserved communities to get access to a high-quality internet connection.

About Paratus

The Paratus Group is a multinational provider of a wide-ranging and independent African network, which includes Paratus Zambia. Paratus Zambia is the top provider of corporate internet, MPLS, cloud and satellite services in the area. One of the group’s goals is to transform Africa through first-rate digital infrastructure and customer support.

The operational staff of Paratus is based in seven African countries – Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia. The company’s expanded network offers a satellite connectivity-focused service in 37 African countries. It provides top-quality service while connecting African enterprises across the continent. The group also has an international presence in Europe, the U.K. and the U.S.

Paratus’s Successes in Zambia

Paratus Zambia has invested in cutting-edge technologies to deliver steady, dependable and fast internet connection with reduced latencies and direct peering with the largest international internet service providers. It offers connectivity to hundreds of Zambian enterprises across many different industry sectors, through its own vast fiber and microwave network. With the help of its expanded network, 4,000 terminals in more than 35 countries in central and west Africa may access the internet.

Because high-speed internet connection is significant for businesses Paratus Zambia uses its own fiber to provide the fastest internet connection to Zambians in Zambian towns. Also, Paratus Zambia integrated auto-failover from fiber to wireless if the client’s primary connection fails, that way the client gets an extra layer of resilience, which ensures that the business can still keep running.

Paratus delivers tailor-made Cloud Solutions. The help of Cloud Solutions can keep company data safe and accessible. In addition to that Paratus offers public, private and hybrid Cloud Solutions with guaranteed accessibility based on solid data centers and communication infrastructure. Paratus also removed high upfront expenses and allowed technology costs to change as the business grows, that way companies can avoid financial risks.

What Paratus and Meta are Doing for Zambia

Paratus Zambia with the help of Meta will build and operate the network to offer wholesale services to mobile network operators and internet service providers. As a result, locals will get around 500 new jobs, more affordable services and better coverage. The network will also connect to Lusaka’s Paratus carrier-neutral data center, where Paratus can provide direct, high-quality access to nearby enterprises, IT News Africa reports.

All of it will be crucial to the economy of Zambia and contribute to giving millions of people and hundreds of enterprises access to the internet through a fiber network that is faster and more secure. That is not all Paratus Zambia is also working on a separate project to connect Zambia’s metro networks to numerous towns and cities. According to IT News Africa, towns where the metro fiber will be available at the end of 2023: Kitwe, Ndola, Livingstone, Chingola, Chililabombwe, Solwezi, Chambishi, Kabwe, Luanshya and Mufulira.

A good internet connection is essential not only for entertainment reasons but also for businesses and people who work remotely. More people have access to it – more people have jobs and money which helps reduce poverty globally as well as in Zambian towns.

– Elizaveta Medvedkina
Photo: Flickr

Technology Access
All over the world, libraries provide the public with free resources in order to inform, educate, enlighten, empower and equip communities with the tools to succeed. Being such an integral part of communities, it is important that everyone has access to libraries or public spaces for educational purposes. Currently, most “economic, educational, health and social opportunities” are dependent on access to the internet. The Gates Foundation’s Global Library Initiative is working to expand technology access in public libraries around the globe.

The Global Library Initiative’s Strategy

The Global Library Initiative, which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has sponsored, works in partnership with governments around the world to expand technology access, foster innovation, train community leaders and advocate for policy changes that benefit public libraries. By investing more than $1 billion globally to enhance the power of libraries, the Global Library Initiative is improving lives. Over the next 10 years, the Gates Foundation plans on implementing:

  • New models of public library research, training and practice.
  • More collaboration across organizations that support public libraries.
  • More support for global connections between public libraries and library organizations.
  • Sustain existing global library programs.

The Significance

“Access to information is a great equalizer” reported the Gates Foundation in response to the significance of The Global Library Initiative. After the technology boom, economic, educational, health and social opportunities almost always depend on an individual’s access to resources found online. A lack of internet access can usually translate to a lack of opportunity.

The World Economic Forum reported that the pandemic exposed the true digital divide across the globe. It reported that almost half of the world’s population had no access to the internet and fewer than one in five people in countries that are least developed around the world were connected. Furthermore, women are 30-50% less likely than men to use the internet to participate in public life.

Because so many people are unable to access the internet that would otherwise provide them with useful knowledge, funding and supporting libraries across the globe provides a smart solution. However, even though many countries already have public libraries, the communities they support often overlook their use and importance and underutilize them. In sustaining these pre-existing libraries, The Global Library Initiative can train staff to provide services to users, supportive networks and broadband connectivity rather than construct new structures entirely.

The Global Library Initiative at Work to Improve Technology Access: Romania

Because the Global Library Initiative is not contained in a single country, the program works with libraries across the globe. One example of the benefits includes their partnership with Biblionet in Romania. In partnering with the Global Library Initiative through the Gates Foundation, the Association of Librarians of Romania, and local and national governments, Biblionet allowed librarians to inspire and “breathe new life into Romanian Communities.”

The Global Library Initiative equipped 80% of all of Romania’s libraries with tech tools that offered strong internet connectivity. Then, the program funded the training of just more than 4,000 librarians in using the technology in order to ensure its accessibility to the public. In doing so, more than 41,000 farmers were able to file online applications for agricultural subsidies through public libraries. This resulted in more than $63 million worth of subsidies granted to them from the Ministry of Agriculture. Without access to the internet through the public library system, the farmers would not have received their fair share of subsidies.

The Global Library Initiative is bridging the gap between access to the internet and connectivity. The program allows more individuals to access free online resources that they would otherwise not have access to. Now, the disadvantaged have access to opportunities previously only available to more fortunate individuals, thus helping bridge the poverty gap.

– Opal Vitharana
Photo: Flickr

Peru’s Internet Revolution
Most people in the developed world take the internet for granted. Connecting to people across the globe in a matter of seconds is an amenity that is often inaccessible to people living in the developing world. While connection to the web is often dependent on affluence, digital exclusion can exacerbate inequalities further. Access to the electronic world allows economies to flourish, with consumers fully aware of their options and suppliers fully aware of their competition. Without this significant communicator, scammers often scam customers for their money, and companies feel detached from their consumers. The invitation of transparency, however, breaks down these barriers and creates unparalleled economic growth. Peru’s internet revolution is a prime example of this concept in action. The South American nation saw its poverty rate decrease by 8% due to today’s technological advancements, proving just how pivotal this key societal component truly is. This figure also quells any concerns of poverty reduction being too large-scale to accomplish; sometimes, a few targeted investments can have a significant positive impact.

Private Investments

While inaccessibility to the internet is a problem facing the entirety of Peru, people living in rural regions are far more likely to experience digital exclusion than their urban counterparts – partly due to unappealing investment opportunities in rural areas. Many internet providers view these small communities as too high-risk for funding, considering their typically rough terrain and the necessity to connect to lines miles away. Excluded from the broader world because of profit-driven decisions, charitable organizations like Internet Para Todos (Internet For All) have felt it necessary to intervene.

The progress has been rapid through partnerships with other generous groups like IDB Group, CAF and even Facebook. Averaging 27 novel 4G connections a day, these organizers were able to provide 6 million Peruvians with a life-changing utility. However, they could not oversee Peru’s internet revolution overnight; rural operators had previously built a plethora of infrastructure since they were legally eligible to do business in 2015 but required more credit and assistance in conjunction with necessary maintenance to complete projects.

Benevolence like this has widespread implications. Children in Peru often had outdated information and studying material before they could utilize tablets and laptops, preventing them from being competitive in the international market. Having a population well-versed in the intricacies of today would grant this mountainous state more clout within the international community, allowing future domestic producers to be fully aware of problems and the alternative solutions necessary to ensure industries at home can flourish.

The Effect on the Economy

Delving deeper into the economic side of this edition, up until 2020, Peru had seen consistent GDP growth throughout the time that telecommunications were blooming. Contrasting the expansion rates during the internet era and prior, there is no denying this modern convenience’s significance. While moves to provide opportunity in rural regions have been more recent, urban areas have seen over a decade of investment, which the data reflects. The nation used to see a wide variance in GDP growth year on year, from extreme highs of 12% to lows of -12%. Still, from 2010 on, the country typically enjoyed a steady 4%+ increase, reflecting a severe shift in Peruvian prospects.

The Work of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and PROMPERU

Peru has started to look beyond its borders with its newfound web access. Groups like the Ministry of Foreign Trade for Peru and PROMPERU have manufactured online marketplaces that highlight local and cultural commodities. This innovation will open up various small businesses to a consumer base they could only dream of having. The magnitude of Peru’s internet revolution is even uncommon in the developed world, let alone in a nation that has struggled to become connected to the internet for decades.

Considering that in 2011, the percentage of impoverished Peruvians was a whopping 29.5% and that by 2019, this figure had significantly cooled down to 20.6%, it implies that there is certainly a lot to celebrate in the case of this novel internet connection. While poverty had been falling substantially in Peru since 2005 (when over half of the state was in economic hardship), the significant dip between 2017 (24.10%) and 2019 (20.6%) after a leveling out post-2015 reiterates the point that investments in the web are not without consequence. In recent years, the commitment to rural outreach has only continued to foster the positives of Peru’s internet revolution.

Looking Ahead for Peru

With all of the good deeds that have occurred, there is no denying that much work still requires completion. About 71.8% of Peruvians have access to the web today, a data point much lower than any developed nation (for context, 92% of U.S. citizens are connected to the web worldwide). There is room for optimism, considering the speed at which the rural communities have connected to the internet and the market failures that have finally received attention. With these newfound investments, the economy has flourished, with poverty dropping nine points in less than a decade, three points in two years alone. So, while Peru’s internet revolution put the nation’s economy back on course, thanks to charitable organizations, refined localized efforts have made all the difference. Combating impoverishment does not have to be overwhelming or large-scale; it can merely be the implementation of a modern amenity that so many take for granted.

 – Jacob Lawhern
Photo: Flickr

Myanmar’s Internet Shutdowns
Myanmar’s community and economy suffer from the ongoing impacts of the military coup that occurred on February 1, 2021. Since 2021, Myanmar has imposed internet shutdowns in the country. In 2021, internet shutdowns across the world led to a global loss of $5.45 billion. Myanmar accounts for a significant portion of this loss, as Myanmar’s internet shutdowns in 2021 cost $2.8 billion. The junta regime established changes to the legal code that negate basic international human rights protections. This includes the amendment of the Electronic Transaction Law. With this, the current government in Myanmar prevents the “free flow of information and criminalizes the dissemination of information through cyberspace.”

Myanmar’s Internet Shutdowns

To curb protests, the military junta instigated total internet blackouts and social media blocks as well as slowed internet speeds to levels where only simple text-based communication was possible. The enforced shutdowns impacted several networks, “including international operators and cellular services.” As a result, people cannot access important COVID-19 information, businesses that rely on the internet cannot operate and reporters cannot give news updates. 

Considering the imposed internet outage cost Myanmar $2.8 billion in 2021, this amounts to the greatest economic loss worldwide in this category. The nation’s weak economy is “30% smaller than it might have been in the absence of COVID-19 and the February 2021 coup,” according to the World Bank.

Effect on Poverty

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated the decline of 1.6 million jobs in 2021. The situation has led some Myanmarese people to resort to exchanging their mobile phones for food. The regime increased internet prices, making online schools and digital medical services financially burdensome or unaffordable.

Business Repercussions

Businesses rely on the internet to maximize sales and remain competitive. In Myanmar, however, the disrupted, costly and slow internet contributes to the decline in overall income and employment. For example, internet outages prevented farms from researching prices online and devastated thousands of small internet businesses. Low income and unemployment perpetuate low domestic demand. An insufficient consumer base feeds the stagnation or failure of local industries. The overall instability in Myanmar has affected businesses‘ “operations, logistics, confidence and appetite to invest.”

USAID’s Contributions

Despite restrictions, Myanmar’s internet penetration continues to grow in part due to international efforts. The U.S. has provided close to $500 million in aid to struggling citizens within Myanmar as well as Myanmarese refugees in other nations. This assistance also involves $24 million worth of COVID-19-related aid. 

Through USAID, the U.S. is helping communities in Myanmar. To help alleviate the repression of basic freedoms, “USAID has trained 255 independent media outlets on unbiased reporting [and] strengthened the capacity of 235 civil society organizations to advocate for democratic reforms.”

In addition, USAID’s new Digital Strategy aims to empower millions to rise out of poverty by leveraging digital technology to ignite economic development in countries. The Digital Strategy aims to “improve development and humanitarian assistance outcomes through the use of digital technology” while encouraging “inclusive growth, [fostering] resilient and democratic societies and [empowering] all, including the most vulnerable.”

Remedial social investment is necessary for Myanmar’s sharply contracting economy. Self-sustainable poverty reduction is not yet a reality as military leadership reversed efforts toward democratic reforms and expelled freedoms to the internet.

– Anna Zawistowski
Photo: Flickr

Cellular Coverage in Palestine
Expanding cellular coverage in Palestine is one of the first steps toward more equitable access to the internet in the modern age. Palestine struggles with a decades-long conflict with neighboring Israel, which, in turn, affects the living conditions of the Palestinian people. Among other things, access to technology is necessary for many of the daily tasks people in developed, flourishing societies complete on a regular basis.

Access to the internet can help ease tasks such as looking for a job or finding the least expensive childcare or health care. The internet is also essential for maintaining a home computer. Palestine has struggled to expand its cellular networks thus far in the 21st century and limited access to the internet affects the living conditions of the Palestinian people.

Economic Hardship

Aside from the direct ramifications that limited access to the internet causes, there are also macro implications. For instance, in 2016, The World Bank reported that “Palestinian cellular companies lost between $436 million and $1.5 billion in potential revenue.”

Israeli SIM cards can be brought into Palestine by either the many Palestinians who work across the border in Israel or by illegal smuggling, according to Reuters. Since the Israeli SIMs are more reliable and have access to a faster network, they are preferable to the Palestinian ones.

People across Palestine, therefore, are inclined to choose the Israeli SIMs over local Palestinian ones thereby causing the Palestinian companies to lose out. Observers believe that the lack of technology in Palestine contributed to an underdeveloped economy.

Access to the Internet

The quality of Palestine’s internet access has also suffered. Unfortunately, much of Palestine still relies on 2G or 3G due to longstanding conflict and other issues, much of nearby Israel has access to 4G or 5G. Prior to January 2018, Palestinians only had access to 2G. Meanwhile, by 2018 Israel had adopted an upgrade to 3G. In 2018, after Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, cellular providers were able to launch local 3G networks with the long-term goal of expanding cellular networks in Palestine.

Negotiations in Progress

Because the relationship between Palestine and Israel is so contentious, even though talks between the two in April 2022 sought to expand coverage in Palestine, actual expansion has yet to manifest itself. As of August 2021, plans were put in place to expand Palestine’s 3G coverage to 4G.

Israel successfully upgraded its internet access to 4G in 2014, so Palestine remains behind in that regard. Agitating parts of the region such as the tumultuous Gaza strip remain at 2G operation as of 2020, according to Reuters.

Upgrade efforts seek to remedy the disparities, but there are significant political considerations at play. Gaza, for example, is home to Hamas, a Palestinian nationalist political organization, so Israel is hesitant to expand coverage in that region. Other reports suggest that Israel is taking advantage of its more advanced cellular networks for increased revenue and perhaps even surveillance of its political opponents in Palestine. As a result, because the region is so contentious, progress tends to be slow.

Technology Companies

Technology executives at companies such as Palestine Telecom Group (Paltel) are confident that negotiations and cooperation between Palestine and Israel will be successful in expanding cellular coverage in Palestine, according to The Jerusalem Post. Palestinian cellular companies invested over $50 million to expand 3G infrastructure across the West Bank, a positive sign on the path to expanding cellular coverage in Palestine. In late November 2021, negotiations between Israel and Palestine resulted in Israeli officials agreeing to expand 4G coverage to Palestine, according to The Times of Israel.

Moving Forward

In Brussels on May 10, 2022, the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) viewed the Palestinian Economic Monitoring Report, as an important step in bringing additional assistance to the Palestinian people. The report emphasizes various areas of concern for the Palestinian economy, one of which is digital infrastructure. The report asks for international cooperation and negotiations in order to achieve some of its goals.

Along with the investment that companies are putting in cellular networks and the potential cooperation between Palestine and Israel, some are optimistic that expanding cellular coverage in Palestine is possible. Certain parts of Palestine could hopefully see 4G networks within the coming years. Though the transition from 3G to 4G is slow and costly, permission to expand the networks is a positive step in the direction of progress.

– Lara Drinan
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Nigeria and Mozambique
Elon Musk proudly shares his work with SpaceX spacecraft, Tesla’s electric cars and Neuralink’s brain-machine. However, this week he changed headlines with a way to reduce poverty in Nigeria and Mozambique. Poverty in Nigeria and Mozambique both have strong ties in rural areas with less connection to neighboring areas. Currently, 83 million people in Nigeria live in extreme poverty, with 53% in rural areas. In Mozambique, 77% of their 18 million residents living in extreme poverty live in rural areas as well.

Starlink

On May 27th, 2022, SpaceEx creator Elon Musk announced over Twitter that his satellite internet system Starlink gained approval for use in Mozambique and Nigeria. Starlink is a set of satellites in constellation form that SpaceX created to provide internet in rural areas, including schools without internet. In the series of tweets, Musk added that one Starlink unit could supply internet to hundreds of students in a single school.

While the United States turned to online learning during the pandemic, developing countries like Nigeria and Mozambique did not have the same tools to keep their children in school.

Internet in Mozambique and Africa

Poverty impacts families in a variety of ways including hunger, lack of education for children and poor health care. The Internet provides a way for children to prevent life-long poverty. Educational programs on the internet can teach children new farming or fishing techniques. They can connect with teachers in other countries and educational videos from around the world. In developing countries, 65% of people do not have access to the internet.

Schools will have access to the internet using Starlink and this could help fight poverty in Nigeria and Mozambique. Currently, only 16% of people in Mozambique use the internet. Along with giving more people access to the internet, Starlink provides a faster connection to those who have it. In Nigeria, the current download speed is 9 megabits per second (Mbps), while Starlink runs at nearly 100 Mbps.

How Starlink Can Help Poverty

Starlink first launched its satellites into space on May 23, 2019, sending 60 into low Earth orbit. Information sent through space moves 47% faster than fiber optic cables. As of January 2022, Starlink consisted of 1,900 satellites sending information around the globe.

Starlink provides high-speed internet to rural areas with previously no connection or slow speeds. Through Starlink, users can “gain access to education, health services and even communication support during natural disasters.” Those who purchase Starlink receive a satellite dish, wifi router and power supply.

Impact on Education

In Nigeria, approximately 10.5 million children do not attend school although its services are free. In some states, such as Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, many schools are not open or have experienced damage and destruction.

Mozambique continues to improve its education system with free textbooks, but “quality and improvement in learning have lagged behind.” In Mozambique, only 1% of teachers have “the minimum expected knowledge.” Providing one teacher with two-day, high-quality training costs $116.

One Starlink unit costs $599 for installation and $110 each month. This investment would offer schools the opportunity to use remote learning through video calls with teachers, online classrooms and other online materials. Over time, Starlink will help provide a higher quality of education to children in Nigeria and Mozambique.

Future of Starlink in Nigeria and Mozambique

In the United States, Elon Musk has a reputation across the internet for Tesla’s electric cars, trying to buy Twitter and giving his child an unconventional name. But in developing countries, people know him as the man that provides internet to people who never had it before or had unreliable internet in the past.

His constellation of satellites provides internet to 32 countries with more than 2,200 satellites in orbit. In the future, he hopes to launch up to 42,000 satellites so anyone around the world can use Starlink’s internet.

Starlink’s connection proved to be resilient after the invasion of Ukraine. Starlink donated receivers to schools, hospitals and local governments and it worked remarkably during the crisis. Those who faced a lack of internet received connection in a war zone and will continue to work in new areas facing extreme poverty in Nigeria and Mozambique.

– Sara Sweitzer
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Digital Gap in Latin America
As the World Economic Forum has noted, the COVID-19 “pandemic has exposed a deep digital divide” across the world. An Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) study from 2020 indicated that the digital gap in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) equated to “three in 10 people” who do not have access to the internet. The pandemic highlights the importance of the internet and digital technology in keeping businesses and people connected by allowing for continuous contactless services and transactions. The LAC region has made great strides in improving internet access and has developed creative ways to ensure that marginalized and low-income communities can access the internet.

Factors Influencing the Digital Gap in Latin America and the Caribbean

Many factors influence digital accessibility, including income levels and location. The internet gap between low and high-income households equates to roughly 40%. About 67% of urban households have internet connections in comparison to 23% of rural households. Evidently, the digital divide is deep, but the LAC region has committed to closing this digital gap.

4 Ways the LAC Region is Closing the Digital Gap

  1. Caribbean Digital Transformation Project. In June 2020, the World Bank approved a $94 million project to implement “an inclusive digital economy” in four Eastern Caribbean nations. The project’s goal is to “increase access to digital services, technologies and skills by governments, businesses and individuals.”
  2. Increasing Free Internet Access. Peru, Argentina, Chile and Colombia have introduced laws to increase free internet access. This includes providing “tablets to teachers and students” and developing more “free WiFi hotspots in public spaces.” These Latin American countries are also expanding “zero-rated services,” meaning that “certain government, health and education sites” do not count as data usage for users. In the past, the world typically viewed internet access and smart devices as luxuries, but this mindset is starting to change as more countries realize that digital inclusion is vital for social and economic development.
  3. Internet as an Essential Public Service. In July 2021, Colombia passed a law defining “the internet [as] an essential public service.” Colombian President Iván Duque explained that the importance of the internet for the nation is “comparable to that of water, electricity and gas.” With this law in place, telecommunication companies must “guarantee customers internet service and provide minimum browsing and free text packages during health and other emergencies.” Chile and Argentina passed similar decrees during the COVID-19 pandemic. These laws are a start in closing the digital gap in Latin America and the Caribbean and could be bolstered by lowering the cost of the internet in low-income countries.
  4. Public Service Kiosks. The digital divide between rural and urban households in the LAC region is especially wide. The Colombian government has set up Vive Digital, “a collection of kiosks” situated in rural communities across the country. The kiosks give people a connection to the internet and increase the accessibility of “e-learning and e-training services” in addition to “online public services.”

Societal Benefits of Addressing the Digital Gap in the LAC Region

Closing the digital divide in Latin America and the Caribbean is critical to improving educational, health and economic opportunities in the region. The World Bank has played an instrumental role in ensuring connectivity in countries such as Haiti and Colombia. In Haiti, the World Bank is assisting with the broadband connectivity needs of roughly “1,300 public institutions.” In Colombia, the World Bank is assisting the Colombian government with advancing  policy and regulations in order to “expand broadband access.”

  • Health Benefits: The digital gap in Latin America and the Caribbean has serious implications for health, particularly given the increased reliance on telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, which drew attention to this issue. The adoption of digital health initiatives better serves rural residents without easy access to a health care facility. In Colombia, approved telecare health services rose by 192% between January 2020 and September 2020.
  • Economic Benefits: Digital inclusion will allow rural and underserved regions to take advantage of economic growth opportunities. The Digital Economy in Latin America and the Caribbean project found that the prevalence of “business websites increased by 800% in Colombia and Mexico” between April and May 2020. During the pandemic, the region has seen an increase in the number of people and businesses using digital technology for teleworking, shopping and e-commerce.
  • Education Benefits: As a result of the pandemic, countless children in Latin America have missed out on education opportunities due to school closures and a lack of internet connectivity. Existing initiatives, such as the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) partnership with Sesame Workshop, seek to ensure a continuation of early education through educational content broadcasts via television.

The Future of Digital Technology

Many LAC nations are experiencing a boom in internet adoption and access as organizations and governments take the necessary steps to close the digital divide in the region. The COVID-19 pandemic not only reveals the educational and health gaps that exist in the LAC region but also presents an opportunity to transform health care and education systems and build infrastructure in order to dissolve barriers to growth and development.

– Jennifer Hendricks
Photo: Flickr

Mexico's Digital DivideSince 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 most impoverished areas. This gap in technological access due to income inequality is better known 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 out or fail grades. 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 suicides. 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 access leaders’ 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 wealthiest states have a larger percentage of households with internet access in comparison to the most impoverished 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 that it would be more worthwhile to invest further in the wealthiest areas instead of the more impoverished ones. The internet also gives people with access to it more of a voice with the ability to communicate 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 valuable 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