Nearly 63 percent of people living in Africa lack internet access. In contrast, 11 percent of North Americans, 13 percent of Europeans and 48 percent of Asians lack internet access. In response to this issue, Africa50, an infrastructure investment organization, has launched an innovation challenge asking for modern innovators to submit their original ideas on how to provide internet to under-served areas in Africa.

The Africa50 Innovation Challenge began May 14, after it was announced at the Transform Africa Summit held in Kigali, Rwanda the same month.

The submitted solutions will be piloted in Rwanda, which Africa50 CEO Alain Ebobissé said was the ideal place to implement and test the solutions.

Rwanda: A Country Evolving in ICT

Ebobissé described the country as having a thriving Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) sector. Cooperation between the challenge and the co-development of the Kigali Innovation City, a project Africa50 invested $400 million in 2018, is evidence of this ICT boom.

Rwanda has increased its internet access to 29 percent, as of 2019. The increase is a marked improvement compared to the less than 1 percent who had access in 2000. This development can, in part, be accredited to the National Information Communication Infrastructure (NICI) policy the country adopted in 2000.

The policy defines four separate stages of increasing internet and communication in Rwanda. The country has already prepared the ICT groundwork and is currently in the fourth and final stage; enhancing the infrastructure and improving the service delivery.

The goal of the final stage is to increase technological skills, develop the community and private sector and enhance the government’s use of the internet and cyber-security. The policy is planned to end in 2020.

The ideas will be implemented more broadly across the continent once the pilot phase in Rwanda is complete.

Winning Criteria and Perks

The judges will be looking for six main criteria in the proposals submitted to the Africa50 Innovation Challenge:

  • Innovation and originality
  • Ability to be implemented on a large scale
  • Affordability for both implementors and consumers
  • Sustainability for the environment
  • Readiness to be piloted in Rwanda
  • Adaptability of the solution for a variety of circumstances

The finalists will be announced mid-October and they will present their solutions at AfricaCom the following month.  Those selected will be announced at the 2020 Transform Africa Summit, but the organization does not specify how many winners will be chosen.

The winners will be awarded a cash prize or project development funding, connections to investors and exposure as an innovator.

If these solutions are implemented, economic growth and job creation are a few of the newfound benefits that may come to these countries. Companies can grow and have an improved role in the competitive market if they have access to the internet.  As a result, these solutions allow them to reach more consumers, labor pools and raw materials, according to a 2012 report by the International Telecommunication Union.

ICT Progress in Other African Countries

There will certainly be interesting proposals from this year’s Africa50 Innovation Challenge entries,  but there are already solutions that have worked in other African countries.

For example, Kenya has had a considerable jump in their internet speed and bandwidth — which increased 43 percent from 2016 to 2017. This increase can be attributed to the National Broadband Strategy for Kenya. Additionally, Nigeria has increased its number of internet users from 72 million in 2017, to 92 million in 2018.

Nigeria’s fiber network, 21st Century, is partnering with Google Station and anticipates the installation of 200 Wi-Fi hotspots by the end of 2019, according to Fortune.

Africa50 aims to spread high-speed internet and improve opportunities for those living in under-served communities, whatever the solution.

– Makenna Hall
Photo: Flickr

Better Internet Access in Africa

Africa stands as a vast and untapped continent that holds high promise for harnessing the power of the Internet. As better Internet access in Africa increases, more people are using the tools of the Internet to empower themselves. They are additionally using it to fuel innovation to find solutions to many of their problems. A term that has started gaining emphasis concerning the Internet in Africa is The Internet of Things. It presents a harmony between hardware and software systems toward the goal of automating many different aspects of society. According to McKinsey & Company, the Internet of Things “has a total potential economic impact of $3.9 trillion” in Africa, meaning that Africans who properly tap into that potential can wield its power to empower themselves.

An important aspect of the Internet of Things is how simple it is for common African citizens to create apps that can provide amazing solutions that address specific and local problems. With a basic education in technological skills, anyone can bring electricity to a village or proper air conditioning to houses in their neighborhood.

Investing in Better Internet Access in Africa

Many global internet companies are attempting to accelerate the expansion of the Internet in Africa by heavily investing in the continent. One example is that “with Internet.org, Facebook wants to provide millions of people…in Africa, with access to the Internet.” This access would be provided for free. Africans can harness this Internet for startups and other entrepreneurial pursuits. These pursuits can boost African nations’ ability to be competitive in the global economy.

In the Congo, Tujiung is “a computer resource center for women coping with violence.” This is essential for the recovery of many women who are victims of the violence that has become rampant due to the political instability in the country. Tujiung provides women with access to information, education and support services through the Internet. This line of communication can help women effectively cope with violence. Additionally, it empowers them to move past being a victim and strive for a normal life.

Making Africa Computer-Literate

With overall low computer literacy in Africa, women are striving to fill in open jobs. For example, a volunteer group called Help to Help attempts to improve gender equality by having boot camps that teach young Tanzanian women how to code and develop their tech skills. Those girls are empowered by their newly developed skills to get into tech careers that propel them to the forefront of innovation in Africa.

The Internet, with its amazing capabilities, provides promise for the biggest continent in the world, Africa. The Internet is rapidly growing in Africa. Better Internet access in Africa results in rapidly increasing empowerment for African citizens. Women are pushing to gain technological literacy. Their skills give them the ability to gain more equality in the workplace and society at large.

-Anish Kelkar
Photo: Flickr

Top 5 Benefits of the Internet in Developing Countries
As of 2019, 56.1 percent of the global population, or about 2.3 billion people, has access to the internet. In recent years the fastest growing market segment has been developing countries, and with the expansion of its popularity, overwhelmingly positive changes have occurred. These top five benefits of the internet in developing countries show how internet access makes a huge dent in global poverty.

Top 5 Benefits of the Internet in Developing Countries

  1. Lifting Individuals out of Poverty: Through internet access, individuals in developing countries are able to gain access to more of the modern economy. With internet connectivity, those living in remote areas can now easily take out microloans, participate in e-banking and more. Today, there are more than 3,098 microfinance organizations that have reached out to more than 211 million clients in developing countries globally. Via such economic tools, those living in extreme poverty are able to improve the quality of their lives. For example, in a case study in India, businesses that received microloans were twice as profitable as those that didn’t. This is because with credit, those without a lot of initial capital now have a discretionary income and no longer have to choose between investing in a business or buying everyday necessities such as medications.
  2. Growing Access to Education: With internet connectivity and new technologies, third-world countries become more able to bridge the education gap between urban and rural populations. In sparsely populated areas, mobile electronic devices such as tablets are being utilized to deliver invaluable classroom instruction to children that otherwise wouldn’t likely receive it. For example, a giant literacy campaign with a budget of $173.5 million is currently being initiated by the Kenyan education ministry. The project utilizes BRCKs: durable, personalized tablets that contain educational content aiming to deliver learning opportunities to those living in even the most remote locations.
  3. Increasing the Ease of Communication: The internet is arguably the most inexpensive and effective connectivity tool. By accessing it, individuals in developing countries can participate in e-conversations through applications such as WhatsApp and WeChat. In a survey conducted in 2017, it was found that about 85 percent of internet users in sub-Saharan Africa used it to stay in touch with family and friends, and around 60 percent utilized it to access social media sites.
  4. Improving Crop Efficiency: Through IoT (internet of things) systems, farmers in developing countries can easily access information about important variables such as humidity, temperature and terrain topography through a variety of sensors. Precision agriculture in third-world countries has also led to the development of unique insurance systems. For example, with Kilimo Salama, farmers in Eastern Africa can now purchase insurance that automatically makes mobile payments to them if their local weather stations record extreme weather occurrences such as drought or flooding. Today, over 150,000 farmers are enrolled in this program.
  5. Greater Global Participation: As of 2017, 53 percent of adult internet users used the internet to stay informed on the news. Because many developing countries also harbor internal conflicts, being up to date on the status quo of things becomes especially crucial for their citizens. In addition, individuals in developing countries can become a part of global conversations via online communication platforms. Social media campaigns have proven themselves to be especially effective at raising awareness for many issues and increasing participation in protests. For instance, many Iranians used Twitter to protest the injustice of the disputed Iranian election of 2009. Through this social media app, the movement was able to go viral with tags such as #IranElection.

Through the increased availability of internet access and clever innovations in third-world countries, the lives of many people have been greatly impacted in overwhelmingly positive ways. With the rise of the popularity of internet kiosks and cafes in rural areas, the hope of universal internet access is no longer far-fetched, and one can only imagine the total impact that internet in developing countries will have on alleviating global poverty.

– Linda Yan
Photo: Flickr

Tech Hubs in Ghana
Even with the challenges the country faces in establishing complete infrastructure, the positive influence of internet coverage in Ghana can be seen from the following data from 2016:

  • Over 18 different service providers offer easy access to the internet all over Ghana. These providers include BusyInternet, Africanus.net and Africa Online.
  • Over 2,900,000 of the Facebook users live in Ghana.
  • As of 2016, 28.4 percent of the Ghana population had access to the internet, opposed to a mere 0.2 percent in 2000.
  • The number of 7,958,675 internet users means that 20,074,700 people still live without internet access in Ghana.

Community-Influenced Tech Hubs

An African organization called Developers in Vogue provides a haven for Ghanaian women pursuing the education in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Women make up over 50 percent of the population in Africa but less than 20 percent of the science and engineering world in Africa. Developers in Vogue combats gender preconceptions on one level and lack of opportunity on another. Providing scholarships, training courses and a project-based curriculum for women seeking a STEM career, Developers in Vogue connects students with internship and jobs. Their aim is to inspire social impact through technology and problem-solving by using real-life cases from their communities in their curriculum.

Another company, Hopin Academy in Tamale, Ghana, works toward supporting students by connecting them to the courses most appropriate for their interests and skills. Through peer-to-peer development and local innovators, the tech hub connects Ghanaians from different backgrounds to practical niches in the local job market. One of the school’s students, Mercy Hammond, is studying BA in Development Education and had her secondary education at Aburi Girls’ Senior High School in the Eastern Region. She is the owner and director of Sparkle House Enterprise that was registered on June 28, 2017, and is involved in the production of jewelry made of both beads and soft metals.

Companies Partnering with Ghana Tech Hubs

As Christoph Fitih, Sales Director for Africa branch of Parallel Wireless states, African countries need to adopt new technologies to prevent further marginalization of Africa from the world economy and eliminate the widening of the current digital divide between Africa and the rest of the world.

Businesses in Ghana understand the time is ripe to create an online presence and even necessary as the world market starts to move more and more toward internet users. MEST, a Pan-African organization partnering with global tech giants, offers aspiring entrepreneurs a rigorous, fully sponsored 12-month program to top-graduates in several African countries including Ghana. Training includes business, communications and software development as well as hands-on project work, giving graduates the chance to pitch their final idea to the board and receive seed funding for their entrepreneurship. Academics and teachers from all over the world bring their experience to the company.

More internet coverage in Ghana means tech companies such as Hubtel and Rancard have become Pan-African brands and according to Nana Prempeh, co-founder and CEO of Asoriba, Ghana has great strengths when it comes to the tech ecosystem. MEST has been a strong backbone of the community. Other global companies partnering with Ghana’s many startups and tech hubs include Google, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, all connected through MEST.

Ghana Technology Development Issues

Ghana’s comparatively stable electricity, security and internet infrastructure exists despite the series of damaging military coups the country went through before 1981. Even though fewer than 1 percent of African retail sales happen online, e-commerce will sky-rocket in Africa, according to the technology review Ghana’s Last Mile by Jonathan Rosen. He hopes issues with unpaved roads and confusing street-labeling will soon be solved through the same spirit of innovation that is already sweeping the nation.

Broader internet coverage in Ghana brightens its future in tech and the online market. There are obstacles of infrastructure to overcome and yet great hope for keeping up with world-wide tech hubs remains. Perhaps the country’s name, roughly derived from the words meaning Warrior King, gives a glimpse of the spirit of the country.

Investment from giants like Google and Amazon Web Services spearhead the beginning of partnerships with corporations all over the globe, as other companies begin to take notice of Ghana’s local hubs and competitive training. Most encouraging is seeing the hands-on training of MEST addressing communities and providing a stream of trained tech-students into the job market.

– Hannah Peterson

Photo: Flickr

8. Internet Censorship in Russia and China
Internet access has become a vital source of information and awareness around the world in the past decade. While more than 50 percent of the world’s population remains without internet access, countries with large populations such as India and China have a massive and growing user base. 

While theoretically advancing their countries not only technologically but politically and socially as well, government restrictions on the right to post or access certain types of information can seriously curtail these benefits. Technology has long been a catalyst for change; however, when restricted, technology can quickly become a tool used for the suppression of human rights such as freedom of expression, free speech and freedom of assembly. 

Studies have determined three key points for promoting internet access across the globe: foreign investment, a focus on the community rather than individual access and no government monopolization of the newly emerging market. Today, government monopolization has the potential to become synonymous with internet censorship. 

Internet Censorship in China

China has more than 750 million internet users, and every user deals with internet censorship. Known as the ‘Great Firewall,’ China’s series of internet filters is one of the most comprehensive systems in the world, restricting citizens’ access to hundreds of internet sites.

Prior to 2017, many internet users in China were able to circumvent the Great Firewall using Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, which provide users with browsing capabilities private from their internet providers. However, within the past year, the number of VPNs able to slip through China’s restrictions has decreased substantially. 

Government monopolization of news outlets in China has led to internet censorship, sometimes to the point of misinformation. In 2017, new legislation in China required all online news sources to be fully monitored by government-approved editors and writers. This enables the government to block legitimate news stories that run counter to the government’s position while also allowing them to push misinformation and propaganda through news websites, giving them complete control of the country’s narrative. 

Internet Censorship in Russia

Russia, another country suffering from serious internet censorship, followed closely behind China in banning VPNs so as to further restrict access to web pages not approved by the government. Without their own Great Firewall, Russia focused on banning specific sites. In 2017, approximately 244 web pages were blocked every day. 

Beyond blocking individual sites, or even entire categories such as news outlets, both Russia and China enforce severe internet censorship on individual citizens. For example, in newly enforced restrictions, China requires internet users to register for online communication sites with their real names. This enables them to hold individuals accountable for what is said in previously private settings. 

These restrictions are typically put in place under the guise of stemming extremist speech, but they can be, and often are, used to block or discourage any speech that the government wishes to suppress. Russian citizens have seen a drastic increase in threats, physical assaults and imprisonment associated with internet censorship on the individual level. Writing, posting or sharing information and opinions on topics such as Russian-occupied Crimea, religious freedom or Syria can result in up to 12 years in jail. 

Censorship: A Human Rights Violation

Those dealing with internet censorship in both Russia and China are in fact experiencing human rights violations. In China, freedom of expression in one of the last safe places—online communities—is closely monitored and used against individuals; in Russia, freedom of expression has become unsafe and restricted to a point worse than anything seen since the Soviet era.  

While technology is often viewed as a large component of a nation’s ability to improve the lives of its citizens, internet censorship creates an environment of control and misinformation. More vital to the wellbeing of people and, by extension, the country they live in, are necessary freedoms such as freedom of expression and speech.

Through the restrictions Russia, China and other countries place on their citizens access to information on the internet, governments have the opportunity to trap people in a cycle of misinformation and silence, thereby negating the once-positive effects of internet access. 

Overcoming Internet Censorship

Citizens in these restrictive countries are growing stronger in their opposition to this violation of their rights. In Russia, the number of protests concerning freedom of speech, religion and assembly has continued increasing. In China, many citizens continue to find ways to circumvent the Great Firewall.

The freedom of internet access has the potential to overtake the negative effects of internet censorship, so long as individuals, communities and countries continue to work towards honesty and open communication across the globe. Simply through our knowledge of internet censorship in countries such as Russia and China, the growing issue of human rights violations is being more openly discussed, and thereby, empowering many people in those countries to continue to fight against the oppression.

– Anna Lally
Photo: Flickr

Internet Access in Developing Countries: A Tool for Sustainability
A large percentage of people in the developed world take technologies such as computers and smartphones for granted.

The average American spends nearly 24 hours a week on the internet, which is an increase of 250 percent from internet usage in the year 2000. In contrast, over 4 billion people in the world are without internet access. Out of this number, 20 countries account for 75 percent of the people without internet access. 

The internet can have positive effects on those living in developing countries. However, it is often not the first thing on the list of necessary improvements. Many communities look to more immediate requirements, such as increased access to health care and basic necessities like food and clean water. 

In 2000, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), held a forum to discuss the changes beginning to occur in the world, including the increasing prevalence of the internet in many countries. Since then, the usefulness, and what is often viewed as a necessity, of the internet has spread across the globe but still fails to reach the world’s population in its entirety. 

Barriers to Internet Implementation

It is estimated that 90 percent of people who live in the Least Developed Countries (categorized by U.N.) are without internet access. In many developing countries, a large portion of the population lives in rural areas, where the cost for internet providers to provide access has not always outweighed the potential benefits to the provider.

Beyond the logistical difficulties with providing internet access in developing countries is the task of breaching the language barrier present in technology and online communications.

As the majority of the world using the internet on a daily basis are speakers of only a small number of languages, those in developing countries, particularly Asian and African countries that often have incredible linguistic diversity within the countries themselves, are often unable to fully benefit from the information and communication provided by internet access.

In fact, it is estimated that only 5 percent of worldwide languages are used on the internet. National languages with many speakers such as Hindi and Swahili are used by less than 0.1 percent of the world’s 10 million most popular websites. 

Positive Aspects of the Internet

However, the goal of internet access in developing countries remains extremely important. Those in the developing world with internet access are given an essential tool for sustainable economic growth. The educational and social benefits, as well as general information provided by internet access in developing countries, assists in decision making that has to potential to positively impact the entire community. 

Internet access in developing countries can specifically benefit women in those countries, as educating girls and women has a great impact on poverty eradication and overall development. The education young women receive, not only in terms of technical schooling but on their bodies and health care, results in more healthy, independent and confident women that can contribute to the local and global economy in a more efficient way.

Additionally, internet access in developing countries promotes education for both men and women concerning technology, a field that has vast potential for professional and economic advancements. Studies suggest that women across the developing world are disproportionately affected by a digital gap and that bringing an additional 600 million women online would contribute from $13 to $18 billion to annual GDP across 144 developing countries.

Internet Kiosks

In 2006, one solution for addressing the digital gap in developing countries was implemented. In India, internet kiosks were set up in rural locations, providing those previously without internet access a low-cost opportunity. This provides community access rather than individual internet access.

One key aspect of internet kiosks are the services they offer. Since they are tailored for rural areas, the needs of the rural population are reflected in their services: providing access to land records, government services and related forms and health, as well as the educational and agricultural information that allow users assistance which is more prevalent in their location and livelihoods.

These kiosks also provide connections between communities through online communication, giving those who previously did not have access to a large portion of the world the ability to engage and be included in the social and educational aspects of today’s world. 

The U.S. is well aware of the problem with the lack of internet access in developing countries. For this reason, Digital Global Access Policy Act of 2018 was presented for a goal of promoting internet access in developing countries and update foreign policy toward the Internet. This Act has yet to pass the Senate and the President before officially implemented.

For the direct contact of the Congress regarding this and many other topics, readers can always use the official site of The Borgen Project, more specifically this link.

– Anna Lally

Photo: Flickr

Using the Internet for DevelopmentIf you are reading this, you are lucky enough to have something that 4.1 billion people go without every day- internet access. And while the internet may be used for a variety of frivolous and silly things like cat videos, memes and gifs, it has also become an indispensable part of daily life in the developed world. The internet also has the potential to drastically improve life for the world’s extreme poor. One study estimated that guaranteeing internet access for everyone would lift 500 million people out of poverty and add over $6 trillion to the global economy. Some people are already taking action. Here are six countries that are using the internet as the most important mean for development.

  1. Colombia.  Thirty-nine percent of Colombia’s citizens live under the poverty line, with the poorest living on under $2 a day. In response, the government has taken steps in using the internet for development by ensuring internet access for 96 percent of this tropical nation’s population. In three years, this infrastructure development raised at least 2.5 million people out of poverty. As the Minister for Technology, Diego Molano, said in an interview with The Guardian: “When we connect, for example, a rural school to Internet, when we connect a small school in the middle of the jungle to Internet, those kids in the middle of nowhere have effectively the same opportunity to access the whole of information society — just like any kid in New York, London or Paris.”
  2. China. While crowdfunding is common in the United States, it is usually not used on a such a wide scale as in China. The Chinese government has recently released an online program called Social Participation in Poverty Alleviation and Development, designed to lift at least 47 million people out of extreme poverty. Essentially, it uses social media platforms such as WeChat to allow normal citizens to help struggling families. At least $3.45 million has been raised for various projects that cover education, agriculture and more important social and economic issues, using the internet as the basis for development.
  3. Kenya. Private industry can make a difference as well. In Kenya, online banking systems such as M-PESA have helped to lift citizens out of poverty. Tavneet Suri, an economist at MIT decided to study the impacts of this phenomenon. She found that for 10 percent of families living on less than $1.25 a day using a mobile banking system was enough to lift them out of extreme poverty. The effect was even more marked amongst women. The mobile system allowed female-led families to save 22 percent more money than before.
  4. Bhutan. The small country of Bhutan located high in the Himalayan mountains has been isolated from the outside world for most of its history. The onset of the digital age changed that. The government has actively encouraged its citizens’ adoption of the internet by moving bureaucratic processes. With the support of the World Bank, information communications technology will continue to expand. In 15 years alone, the number of internet users in Bhutan grew by over 300 thousand.
  5. Rwanda. Though Rwanda may still be known in the international community for its horrific ethnic genocide, in recent years, the country has taken multiple steps towards development. The government has launched an effort called Vision2020 to cultivate an entrepreneurial, tech-savvy middle class. Internet connections are widespread throughout the country and are used for innovative purposes. One philanthropist started the Incike Initiative, an annual crowdfund that provides health care for the survivors of the genocide. Another entrepreneur started a platform called Girl Hub that allows women to give their opinions to local news sources. Rwanda fully utilizes the internet for development.
  6. Peru. With support from the international community, the Peruvian government is making efforts to connect more than 300 thousand people in rural areas to the national electric grid and, through this, to the internet as well. This connection has wider implications, especially for education. Students in these isolated areas can now be exposed to ideas in the wider world. This encourages engagement. A teacher in one of these villages, Teresa Uribe says that the kids now want to learn more, thanks to the technology.

These stories show the power of the internet to enact positive change in the developing world. If you too are interested in using the internet for development, take this opportunity to email your representatives about anti-poverty legislation. The internet’s potential should not go wasted.

– Lydia Cardwell
Photo: Flickr

internet access in IndiaIndia is a heavily populated country with over one billion citizens. Many of these people are living in extreme poverty, lacking both life-sustaining basic needs and other more modern necessities. Among these inadequacies is the connectedness through the World Wide Web. With a national GDP of USD 2,000 in 2017, the internet access in India is hard for many to obtain. Though India is the second largest online market in the world, roughly 75 percent of the population is offline. Furthermore, 71 percent of internet users are men, which means that less than 30 percent are women.

Problem background

Across the nation, urban and rural areas are lacking internet access in India and here is a quick look into why this void exists.

  • Poor infrastructure: cables and/or fibers have yet to be installed in many undeveloped and poorly developed areas, especially low-income ones.
  • Purchasing electronic devices to access the internet is not a basic need for people in extreme poverty.
  • The absence of IT education prevents citizens from the desire for internet access.
  • Gender inequality prevents women from using the web since to assure they will not be tempted to stray from cultural norms and expectations.
  • Net neutrality: in all of India, there was a total of 174 internet shutdowns in the six years up to mid-2018.

Why does it matter

As previously stated, there are over a billion people in India. Today’s world is mostly connected to the internet and those without access are being left behind which represents a huge disadvantage. With 75 percent of a billion people in one geographical location left unconnected, there is a huge untapped market that India and the rest of the world are being deprived of. In 2016, the U.S. gained 16 billion dollars from India’s digital buyer market. If more people had internet access in India, it is likely the economy would grow and poverty would decrease, resulting in improved international relationships as well.

The solution

Fortunately, the movement to provide more citizens with internet access in India is in motion. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is reducing the internet shutdowns that happen due to net neutrality thanks to the influence of the Telecommunication Regulation Authority of India (TRAI). The Government of India is making progress in providing access to more Indian citizens and is partnering with independent partners such as BharatNet is enhancing the internet infrastructure. India Accelerator is another organization doing the groundwork to raise funds for many internet start-up companies which encourages entrepreneurship.

Internet future in India

Moving forward, facts above mostly mean a brighter future for India in internet access. As the DoT and the TRAI work together to prevent unfair blocks to internet access in India, internet freedom is becoming a reality for many formerly oppressed people. According to Inc42 Media, India has a 50 billion dollars potential online commerce market. When millions of people gain access to this market backed by empowerment and funding, this has a power to change India economy in a positive direction. By launching new companies, creating more income and more jobs, the GDP will rise, significantly lowering the poverty rates and creating a more sustainable and stable India.

India currently lacks the power to provide its citizens with the means to send and receive electronic data, something many would consider a basic human right in today’s world. This is coming to an end as internet access in India is becoming a priority for the Government and for the people.

– Heather Marie Benton
Photo: Flickr

Digital Gap Act Benefits the U.S.The Digital Gap Act’s (H.R. 600) objective is primarily to foster greater internet access in developing countries in order to:

  1. Reduce poverty
  2. Improve education
  3. Empower women
  4. Advance U.S. interests

What the Digital Gap Act Will Do

Three billion people, that is 60 percent of the world’s population, lack internet access. As a result of that, those same three billion people are outside the radius of the free flow of information, innovations in health, education and commerce and are therefore lacking access to U.S. goods and services.

As the Digital Gap Act establishes internet access for these people, several features of the developing world would improve, while benefiting the U.S. simultaneously.

How the Digital Gap Act Benefits the U.S.

Bringing 500 million women online has the potential to add an additional $18 billion in GDP growth across 144 countries, which expands the global market for U.S. goods and services. The act also promotes democracy and good governance due to the transparency that follows the free flow of information on the Internet, instilling a favorable investment climate.

Furthermore, the Digital Gap Act could generate a possible $2.2 trillion in additional total GDP, which is a 72 percent increase in the GDP growth rate of developing countries. It would also spur job creation, up to 140 million jobs to be more precise, benefitting both the U.S. and developing countries, and would increase personal income gains to $600 per person in developing countries each year.

Lastly, the Digital Gap Act would lift 160 million people out of extreme poverty, all of whom would work their way into a growing market. This also means 2.5 million lives would be saved through improving healthcare.

Previous Advances Due to Greater Digital Access

Improved access to the internet has long been proven to advance the world as a whole. Eight million entrepreneurs in China now use e-commerce to sell goods, one-third of them being women. India reduced corruption and increased access to services by using digital identification. Africans with HIV were better reminded to take their medication through SMS messages.

The Digital Gap Act benefits the U.S. in a plethora of ways. Anywhere from cybersecurity to global political stability, global health to job availability and economic growth to cost-effective development practices, the developing world as well as the U.S. have much to reap from the gains in all these sectors. So today, U.S. taxpayers have a well-defined and remarkable reason to celebrate for the nation’s considerable contribution in the form of the Digital Gap Act.

– Roberto Carlos Ventura
Photo: Flickr

Ecommerce in IndiaWith Walmart’s recently announced acquisition of Flipkart, India’s largest online retailer, the U.S. retail multinational has placed a substantial bet on the future of ecommerce in India and the country’s economic potential.

Confirmed in recent weeks, Walmart’s purchase of almost 80 percent ownership of Flipkart represents the largest single foreign direct investment transaction in the country’s history. Although ecommerce represents a small portion of total retail sales in India, companies like Walmart are betting that a burgeoning middle class and greater access to technology offer the potential for a sizable market.

Indeed, the more bullish analysts predict an ecommerce boom in the country. U.S. investment bank Morgan Stanley estimates that online retail sales in India could grow by more than 1,200 percent, from $15 billion in 2016 to $200 billion in 2026. These numbers would trail the world leaders in online retail sales such as China ($1.1 trillion in 2017) and the U.S. ($453 billion) but would already put India among the largest ecommerce markets in the world and unmatched in the rest of the world in terms of potential size.

Forecasts include burgeoning internet usage and lower data access costs in the country, which will broaden the accessibility of online retailers. Optimism also stems from size and growth of the Indian economy: its population is 1.3 billion, the second-highest behind China, with a young demographic profile and GDP growth of 7.2 percent in 2017. This represented the fastest rate among all major economies. It is also hoped that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be successful in implementing economic reforms to ease the cost of doing business, including for foreign investors, in the coming years.

Walmart is not alone in betting on the potential of ecommerce in India. Amazon entered the market in 2013 in an attempt to challenge Flipkart’s success and has steadily gained ground. Alibaba, the Chinese ecommerce giant, first made inroads into the space in 2015 by investing in Paytm, a financial technology startup, and has since continued to expand its investment into other ecommerce groups.

Some observers are more tepid about India’s potential. GDP per capita remains low compared to other major economies; at approximately $1,700 in 2016, it is roughly one-fourth that of China. Moreover, the wealth of 80 percent of the population falls below that number, reflecting the country’s problem with income inequality, with the richest segment of the population holding an outsized share of the wealth.

In fact, despite proclamations heralding the arrival of India’s massive middle class, a 2015 Pew survey found that the country’s progress in poverty alleviation has largely moved its population from poor to low-income earners. This leaves them dangerously close to re-entering poverty with such limited disposable income.

Outlooks vary, but the commitments to the country by some of the world’s major online retailers represent their belief in its likely transformation and growing earning potential. As some experts have noted, the acquisition by Walmart and its competitors represents a long-term bet that India could be on the cusp of the consumption explosion China saw earlier this century. If their bets on ecommerce in India pay off, it will likely be because it coincides with rising prosperity and economic security for Indians as a whole.

– Mark Fitzpatrick
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