Internet Access in the Philippines
The Philippines officially connected to the internet in 1994. Since then, its internet usage has seen incredible growth. From 2010 to 2020, the number of internet users nearly doubled, from 27% to 52%. Now, more than 73 million Filipinos use the internet and others have dubbed the Philippines the “social media capital of the world.” The internet has done a lot to improve education and the job market for the Filipino people. Though the internet is still improving, Filipinos have taken great strides in increasing internet access in the Philippines for those living in poverty.

In 2010, the Philippine Digital Strategy (PDS) was released to increase the Philippines’ digital infrastructure. This strategy includes a plan to provide “Internet for All,” declaring it a human right. It states that the internet gives people the freedom to communicate, work and learn. Since this statement, several projects have launched to make the Philippines’ internet as accessible as possible. These initiatives especially target those living in poverty or with lower incomes.

Free Internet Access in Public Places Act

One of these projects is the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act. This project aims to provide free wi-fi in all public places such as schools, parks, transportation ports and health facilities. This is incredibly important for those living in poverty, as wi-fi in the Philippines is among the most expensive in the world. By having free wi-fi in easily-accessible locations, people in the Philippines have more chances to work, communicate and learn online.

After government funding doubled in 2015, the project expanded its scope and brought the internet to more communities. For example, it establishes internet access to facilitate relief operations in areas that disasters hit. One such instance was in Burdeos, Quezon after Typhoon Ulysses affected it in November 2020. It has also created more than 20,000 hotspot locations around the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, it focuses its outreach on the Philippines’ rural areas, which still do not have nearly as much access as larger cities do.

TV White Space Deployment

Another project that helped to make the Philippines’ internet more accessible was the TV White Space Deployment (TVWS). White space comprises radio frequencies broadcasting stations use. However, many countries have been trying to convert white space into the internet to provide access to people living in rural areas. In the Philippines, this project addresses a strong need as 52% of the population lives in rural areas, yet only 37% had access to the internet in 2018.

TVWS focuses on getting the internet to as many rural schools, hospitals and businesses as possible. An example of this project’s impact is the large but remote fishing community. In 2014 alone, TVWS, along with FishR Program, was able to increase the number of fisherfolk with internet access from 250,000 to 1 million people, and have since set up online banking and an online platform to help them continue business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Internet and Education

Education is one of the most important factors to escaping and ending poverty. As such, the Philippines has been using the internet to make education more accessible. The Alternative Learning System (ALS), also called a “second chance education” program, is a system that mirrors the formal education system but allows students of all ages to learn online or at odd hours.

Nearly half of Filipinos are unable to complete formal, basic education for various reasons. The ALS program allows students to learn on their own schedule without needing to be there in person or give up work to do so. Currently, 5.5 million students are using ALS. The ALS program also offers a certificate that allows students to apply to higher education and vocational schools. It is also currently adding classes for adults who never finished school so that they can get higher pay and more training in their respective fields.

Looking Forward

While internet access in the Philippines has grown throughout the last decade, it can improve in many ways. Currently, the Philippines has one of the slowest internet systems in the world. There is also a need to make the internet cheaper; some suggest that more internet companies should enter the country to make a competitive market and lower consumer prices. There is also still a great need for more internet access in rural areas.

The Philippines is in an important transitional period; now, more than ever, the internet has a great chance of improving. Doing so will help Filipinos get through the aftermath of the pandemic, thrive economically, increase the middle class and even eradicate poverty.

– Mikayla Burton
Photo: Flickr

Virtual Learning In Kenya
Kenya is a country in East Africa with 26 million children, many of whom do not have the devices or internet access to partake in virtual learning. Schools have been closed for six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so children need to attend online classes to stay on track. The government is introducing a new digital learning model to 24,000 public schools so that virtual learning in Kenya is accessible to all children.

Internet for All

After Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru launched a digital learning program, Kenya’s government spent 15 billion KES so that schools can teach four subjects online. By using the funds, schools are building computer labs, distributing fiber optic cables, training teachers in digital learning and connecting remote areas to the Internet. Virtual learning in Kenya is only possible if every student has an internet connection and a device at home. Mucheru’s program will distribute digital learning devices that local universities will help develop. Most schools in remote areas of Kenya do not have power access. To combat this, Mucheru will implement solar power in these locations.

Many Kenyan students lacked internet access before their schools shut down, so the program has a learning curve. Luckily, public school children will learn how to use computers and the internet. This ensures they will acquire the same digital skills as children in private school.

The Bigger Picture: Worldwide Statistics

Two-thirds of all children under 18 (1.3 billion) do not have internet access at home, yet hundreds of millions of students must learn virtually. In developing countries, one in 20 children has an internet connection at home compared to nine in 10 children from developed countries. This creates a gap in global access to knowledge.

The digital divide worsens existing inequalities. As children from poor households are struggling to catch up with their peers, they are falling behind in school. Lack of internet access isolates children from the world and halts their education and computer-literacy journeys. According to ITU data, people struggle to compete in the modern economy with poor digital skills.

The Fight to Attend Online Class

During 2020, people broke social distancing to find internet access, thus risking their health. Students in China spent hours hiking to mountaintops in freezing temperatures to find a connection and attend online classes. Many developing countries use television to administer online lectures but rural households rarely have TVs. UNICEF recommends that countries include alternative learning sources like radios, homework packages and tablets. In 2019, UNICEF started Giga which aims to connect every school and its community to the internet. The program has succeeded in 800,000 schools in 30 countries.

Persistent Challenges

Even when children have internet access at home, chores and work might take priority over their studies. Since there are not enough devices for everyone, girls receive encouragement to pursue other things such as early marriage and housework. Computer literacy in girls is rare. Until children resume in-person school, these problems will persist. However, brand new computer labs and internet access that Kenya’s government is supplying will be waiting for them upon return. For now, most children can log into online school because virtual learning in Kenya is finally a reality.

– Rebecca Pomerantz
Photo: Flickr

Internet in AfricaAfrica has become a hub for electronic expansion in recent years. For example, more and more of its business and financial transactions are being made from mobile devices. Further, new technology in sub-Saharan Africa has rapidly been developed. The region has identified the benefits and uses of new systems of finance and governing. However, even though technology has been a focal point for many sub-Saharan countries recently, Africa’s overall connection to the internet has remained at a low level. Now, COVID-19 poses new challenges to business and connection. For many, having reliable access to the internet in Africa may be the difference between staying above or below the poverty line amid COVID-19.

Access to the Internet in Africa

While technology has rapidly expanded in Africa in recent years, only 18% of the population has reliable internet access, and only one in 10 households are connected to the internet. Further, the majority of this percentage is in urban areas. The governments of African countries face significant challenges in bringing more access to the rural parts.

One of the biggest challenges in this task is the commitment from private companies. Until recently, most of the internet connectivity in Africa has been left up to the private sector. However, the lack of pre-existing infrastructure in Africa’s rural areas makes developing connectivity in these areas quite expensive. For this reason, most of the private companies have never taken the time to invest in these regions. This highlights how technology can sometimes appear to be making great changes to the world, but in reality, it is only helping those who can afford it or who are profitable to invest in. More attention must be paid to the remote and impoverished communities that are not benefiting from our technological advances as this system only deepens inequality.

COVID-19 and Interpersonal Connection

Today, this inequality is beginning to change. Now local governments in Africa are more seriously committed to providing reliable internet to their people. This comes at the most crucial time as the COVID-19 pandemic has created numerous problems for interpersonal connection. Having internet access is now more critical than ever for business, global affairs and education. All of these points are crucial in lifting people out of poverty.

Because of governments’ efforts, many organizations are coming to Africa looking to further increase connectivity. The TZ21 program is successfully bringing new technological devices to Zanzibar in Tanzania. The Alliance for Affordable Internet has also been raising large sums of funding to provide reliable internet access to citizens of Africa. This organization has organized a stakeholder coalition in Nigeria and several other countries to work with local governments with the goal of providing reliable internet for all.

Future Progress for Africa

Africa has made great progress, but it still remains the least connected continent in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how important it is to have internet in Africa. In addition, it also put pressure on local governments to find solutions for their citizens. Building back from this moment, Africa may choose to further invest in the infrastructure, skills, jobs, and policy to allow technology and global connectivity to flourish in Africa. All of these things would boost economies and social awareness all around Africa. It could potentially be the solution to many poverty-related problems.

Jackson Bramhall
Photo: Flickr

Mobile Data TrafficMany poverty-stricken individuals do not have access to the internet, creating a digital divide. The COVID-19 pandemic has revolutionized mobile data traffic around the globe, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Mobile broadband supports access to education, work, healthcare, goods and services. It plays an imperative role in reducing poverty. With nearly 800 million people in the region still without access to the mobile internet, it has never been more urgent to close the digital divide.

The Need for Mobile Broadband

According to Fadi Pharaon, president of Ericsson Middle East and Africa, the increasing demand for mobile broadband provides an unprecedented chance to improve economic conditions for Africa. Currently, Africa is one of the quickest growing technology markets.

In addition to younger populations requiring technology to develop practical computer skills, during the COVID-19 pandemic, access to the internet is also crucial for remote learning and remote work to continue development and economic progression.

In response to the pandemic, sub-Saharan African countries that were able to implement telework adaptations had considerably greater access to the internet, as much as 28 % of the population, as opposed to countries that were not implementing telework, at 17 %.

Due to the increase of digitalization during the pandemic, these developments are expected to positively contribute to the region’s economic recovery post-pandemic. Research suggests that expanding internet access to cover an additional 10% of the region’s population has the ability to increase gross domestic product (GDP) growth by one to four percentage points.

The Mobile Broadband Demand

Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) delivered over 4G or 5G is a more affordable alternative to providing broadband in areas with limited access. By 2025, FWA connections are expected to reach 160 million, accounting for 25% of global mobile data traffic.

The estimated total growth of mobile data traffic is from 0.87EB per month in 2020 to 5.6EB by 2026, an increase of 6.5 times the current figures.

To keep up with the demand, service providers are predicted to continue upgrading their networks to meet their customers’ evolving needs.

Additionally, networks expect to see an increase in customers purchasing mobile data subscriptions. Long-term evolution (LTE) was predicted to amount to 15% of subscriptions at the conclusion of 2020.

Novissi Digital Cash Transfers

The Novissi cash transfer program in Togo is an example of why mobile broadband access is important in developing countries. To support struggling people in Togo during COVID-19, instant mobile cash payments were made to their mobile phones to address urgent needs. The program provided more than half a million people with financial assistance during a crisis.

Closing the Digital Divide Reduces Poverty

Experts suggest that funding infrastructure, increasing electricity access and developing approaches to support digital businesses will aid in economic recovery and continue to close the digital divide. While sub-Saharan Africa has seen an acceleration of mobile data traffic during COVID-19, more action still needs to be taken to support its citizens post-pandemic. Providing affordable access to mobile phones, mobile broadband subscriptions and internet access will help support the recovering economy and alleviate poverty in the region.

Diana Dopheide
Photo:Flickr

How Airtel Helped Millions of Africans Get ConnectedPrior to Airtel’s arrival, implementing and maintaining a large scale telecommunications company in Sub-Saharan Africa seemed unthinkable. But in 2009, when Airtel set up shop in Africa, the cell phone, once a luxury available only to the upper-class, became a simple and affordable tool for the average person. With 99 million subscribers, the company represents a game-changing shift in the accessibility of mobile connections in Africa, as well as providing employment to 1.6 million people across the continent. When its first major operation in Sub-Saharan Africa began in 2008 with the acquisition and transformation of smaller telecommunications companies within the continent, the face of the average African cellphone user began to shift dramatically.

Airtel: Providing Affordable Mobile Access

While it is difficult to measure the number of unique users of mobile phones, as of 2019, there were 747 million SIM connections in Sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for 75% of the population. The increased accessibility of cell phone access in this region is largely credited to Airtel’s groundbreakingly affordable prices, with a basic handset, SIM card and prepaid credit voucher available for just $20.

A portion of Airtel’s impact is also attributed to the company’s radical construction of cell phone towers across sub-Saharan Africa. Airtel has targeted the capitals of all 14 countries in which they operate, with 4G live in each city, and plans to expand to rural areas as well. The company’s largest investment has been Nigeria, with the construction of 30,000 towers across the nation. From 2008 to 2018, rates of Nigerian cell phone subscriptions rose from two million to 172 million.

One of the most significant causes of the rise of mobile connection in Africa can be found in Kenya, where rates of cell phone ownership rose from just 1% in 2002 to 39% in 2014. The effects of increased mobile connections in Kenya are exemplified by the development of its online economy through developments such as Kenya Internet Exchange Point, an international axis for the country’s mobile technology. Today, urban Kenya serves as a hub for novel advancements in information technology that serves populations across the globe.

Additionally, thanks to increased rates of cell phone usage, mobile banking in Kenya has become more widely available than ever before. The accessibility of online banking allows those abroad to easily send remittances to underserved populations in rural areas, without the hefty fees that once came with international money transfer. This cash flow allows rural populations to lead improved lives, bolster the local economy and help fill the gap between developed and developing nations.

Mobile Access Improving Education

Evidently, cell phones in Sub-Saharan Africa have also come to fill an important role in the world of education. In one 2015 field study, smartphones were found to be utilized by students and teachers alike as multipurpose tools for education.

At the student level, 37.5% of surveyed students in Ghana, 36.9% in Malawi and 60.9% in South Africa reported receiving funding for their education, including uniforms, books and lunches through their smartphones. Aside from a source of mobile money, school children also used smartphones for their calculator applications, internet search abilities and as a light source in areas with little to no electricity. In other words, smartphones fill crucial gaps for students with limited access to educational resources in and outside the classroom.

Likewise, in all three countries surveyed, teachers reported using their smartphones to access more detailed information in the classroom. As one teacher in Ghana reports, “I try to get current issues for illustration in class.” In short, the mobile connection in Africa represents radical economic growth that allows those stuck in poverty to become upwardly mobile and create better lives for themselves and their communities. By working to allow the average, often underserved person, to easily access a cell phone connection, Airtel has created a new world of possibilities for the future of development in Africa.

Jane Dangel
Photo: Flickr

Rainwater harvestingTechnology has played a significant role in the reduction of global poverty. Two particular areas technology has improved impoverished communities are water access and water quality. For instance, a newly developed piece of technology showcases the potential for enhancing water security throughout Africa. The key is effective rainwater harvesting.

Water Supply Threats

In Africa, increasing water access and sanitation has become a top priority. Consequently, many organizations — the United Nations, the African Union, and the African Development Bank — have come together to solve the water crisis by sponsoring The Africa Water Vision for 2025. It warns that African water resources are threatened by pollution, environmental degradation, and a lack of responsible protection and development.

A New Smartphone App

Despite these threats, a new smartphone app has empowered Africans to efficiently procure their own water. Rainwater Harvesting Africa (RHA) is a smartphone app that the U.N. Environment Programme and the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization jointly developed. It enables Africans to use rainwater harvesting systems to obtain their own water.

Usually, rainwater is harvested through the construction of a central water tank that connects to various downspouts. But, with this app, households are able to capture rain runoff for essential personal use.

RWH Africa utilizes real-time meteorological data to track rain patterns throughout Africa. App users can input their location, the area measurement of their rooftop, the number of people living in their household, and how much water they use per day. The app uses this information to calculate how much water can be harvested at a given time for the needs of the user. Additionally, the app provides images and directions detailing how to construct rainwater harvesting systems with locally available materials.

Promising Factors

In addition, RWH Africa has built-in resources that can improve access to water throughout Africa. They can capitalize on increased technological infrastructure to expand its user base. GSMA estimates that 475 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa alone will become mobile internet users within the next five years, and 27% of their mobile internet connections will be on 4G. With increased smartphone usage throughout the continent, more Africans will be able to access this powerful tool of water procurement.

Although Africa needs to increase its internet capacities to maximize the app’s effectiveness, it has a more than sufficient water supply. In 2006, the U.N. Environment Programme and World Agroforestry Centre issued a report indicating that Africa alone receives enough rainfall each year to meet the needs of nine billion people. According to the report, Africa is not water-scarce, but the continent is just poorly equipped to harvest its water resources adequately and safely. RWH Africa gives Africans the knowledge they need to personally capture these vast water resources.

Furthermore, rainwater harvesting is low-cost and easy to maintain, making it widely accessible. According to The Water Project, a household rainwater harvesting system can hold up to 100,000 liters of water. This is enough to allow communities to decouple from centralized water systems that are subject to incompetent or corrupt management. Rainwater harvesting hence enables individuals to take matters into their own hands and decrease their reliance on undependable municipal water sources.

Technology Can Beat Poverty

As internet connection and smartphone usage expand, new solutions to poverty issues, such as water insecurity, will reach more people. RWH Africa serves as an educational and practical tool for rainwater harvesting and thus can be used as an example for similar future efforts. It signifies a positive outcome of increased cooperation between international organizations and local communities in combating global poverty.

John Andrikos
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Poverty AlleviationFor the past four decades, the Chinese government has viewed poverty alleviation as integral to its economic development. The government’s efforts against poverty have intensified under the leadership of President Xi Jinping who proposed ambitious measures to eliminate poverty by the end of 2020.

China has made tremendous progress in alleviating poverty through the government’s efforts, as the number of people living in poverty in China has fallen from 750 million in 1990 to just 16.6 million in 2019. However, obstacles remain ahead of China’s efforts to completely eradicate poverty and improve the standard of living for its residents.

Poverty Eradication Under Xi Jinping

In 2014, China’s government implemented a strategy of Targeted Poverty Alleviation, which allows the government and local officials to address the needs of individuals and households rather than entire villages. Local officials use data from a local registration system containing information from more than 128,000 villages to identify and provide support to poverty-stricken areas. According to China’s President Xi Jinping, Targeted Poverty Alleviation follows an approach based on policies in five areas:

  • Industrial development
  • Social Security
  • Education
  • Eco-compensation
  • Relocation

 At a local level, the Targeted Poverty Alleviation program employs the pairing-up strategy, which enables impoverished families in western provinces to receive support from the more affluent eastern provinces. Officials who exclusively support rural inhabitants support impoverished households, including those in ethnic minority areas. The government supports the local industry by establishing internet commerce centers in rural areas known as Taobao villages. In Taobao villages, rural residents can support themselves by selling crops and local products online. By 2015, Taobao villages supported 200,000 shop owners and employed one million people.

The Targeted Poverty Alleviation campaign has also implemented nationwide initiatives to facilitate industrial development. In 2019, China spent 19 billion dollars on a variety of infrastructure initiatives. Through these initiatives, China has been able to build or renovate more than 124,000 miles of roads and provide 94% of rural villagers with internet access.

China also uses a resettlement program to help elevate rural residents from poverty. Under this program, the government encourages residents in remote and ecologically vulnerable rural regions to relocate to areas closer to the cities. By one estimate, over nine million people have been resettled by this initiative between 2016 and 2020. Increased economic opportunities in cities and reforms that allow greater internal migration in China have also encouraged resettlement. These migrations have resulted in China’s urbanization rate rising from 17.92% in 1978 to 57.3% in 2016.

Metrics of Success

China’s efforts to alleviate poverty have been judged as tremendously successful by most measures. Between 2014 and 2019, 68 million rural residents have risen from poverty. China’s reforms to its economy has enabled 730 million people to emerge from poverty over the past four decades, accounting for nearly three-fourths of global poverty accomplishments from this time period. According to the UN Millennium Global Development Report, China’s policies have enabled the international community to meet the UN’s goal of reducing extreme global poverty by 50%.

China’s economic success has enabled it to address disparities between its urban and rural populations in healthcare. Urban and rural populations have both witnessed infant mortality rates decline below 1%, and maternal mortality rates for urban and rural mothers have declined and attained parity at the level of two per million in 2019.

Obstacles

Despite China’s progress in eliminating poverty, the nation continues to face obstacles in attaining its ambitious standards and supporting the needs of poor residents. Local officials’ administration of financial support is often arbitrary or impeded by stringent bureaucratic procedures, which has resulted in some poor households being denied or receiving insufficient financial support. The increased funds invested in poverty alleviation efforts has also contributed to significant “corruption and mismanagement.”

China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) reported that 730 yuan (112.21 million USD) in poverty alleviation funds were misappropriated in 2018 through violations, such as embezzlement, fraud and bribery. The government uses the CCDI to maintain oversight on how its funding is used, and officials who fail to accomplish poverty reduction in their region face expulsion from the Communist Party and “career oblivion.”

The government’s poverty alleviation efforts have also been criticized for its emphasis on the rural poor while ignoring those in urban areas who are struggling to meet high living costs. China’s poverty alleviation campaign invited high polluting industries, such as those that have been associated with reduced air and water quality in impoverished regions, causing many to question whether China’s progress is sustainable. The relocation program has also been controversial as many rural residents often relinquish their land for little compensation, only to subsequently struggle to find work in the cities. Government officials have also expressed impatience with residents who were unwilling to relocate.

The progress of the poverty alleviation campaign was also complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the initial four months of 2020, unemployment rose to 6.2% and one expert calculates that 80 million people in China were unemployed when rural villagers and migrant workers were included in the calculation. Despite the economic effects of the pandemic, Beijing has not relented in its endeavor to eliminate poverty, and experts doubt that China will admit to having failed to meet its goal for 2020, regardless of the state of the economy. Regardless of whether China attains its goal for 2020, experts doubt that it will abandon its endeavors to improve its people’s standard of living.

China’s efforts towards eradicating poverty have yielded tremendous success, yet the government and the country’s people will be responsible for ensuring that its progress is sustainable and results in tangible improvements to the standard of living of people in urban and rural areas.

Bilal Amodu
Photo: Pixabay

Project LoonInnovative 21st-century technologies have motivated NGOs and tech companies around the world to develop apps and other online ways for people in developing areas to stay connected. Information provided on the internet or transmitted through SMS assists people worldwide with acquiring resources and employing techniques to advance education, healthcare and agriculture. Unfortunately, some areas remain untouched by the benefits of staying connected because their remoteness prevents internet availability — at least until now. Google’s sister company, Loon, is rising to the challenge of providing internet to remote populations in Africa and recovering populations affected by natural disasters using solar-powered 4G balloons with Project Loon.

Project Loon

Project Loon, which became one of Google’s “moonshot projects” in 2011, began launching balloons by 2013 and partnered with Telkom Kenya in 2018. Following this deal, the solar-powered balloons were tested on 35,000 customers covering over 50,000 square kilometers. The goal was to provide adequate connectivity to underserved and disadvantaged communities, beginning with Kenya. Loon executives stress that providing creative, low-cost solutions is the greatest way to help people, particularly those in rural areas where connectivity could be life-changing. Their passion stems from an intense desire to “challenge the status quo” by “[relying] on knowledge and empathy to make wise decisions.” Initial findings suggest that Loon balloons cover up to 100 times more area than typical cell towers and deliver wifi strong enough for video callings, surfing the web, watching YouTube videos, downloading apps and messaging other users.

How it Works

Loon 4G balloons are essentially flying cell phone towers but they are much lighter and more durable. They have the ability to withstand temperatures below -90°C and to remain steady amid violent winds. After being launched in the United States and traveling through wind currents across the world, the balloons begin their 100-day stays in Kenyan airspace, providing internet download speeds up to 18.9 megabits per second in partnership with AT&T.

Although the balloons heavily depend on wind currents as guides, they also have specially designed, state of the art Flight Systems that consist of three main parts: the balloon envelope, bus and payload. The envelope, made of polyethylene plastic, forms what people typically recognize as a balloon. The bus holds solar panels where the battery is charged, the altitude control system that navigates winds using GPS and the safety gear (parachute) for landing. The payload is the internet provider that houses the LTE antenna and the gimbals which liaise between the balloon and the ground. The balloons also depend on lift gas to loft them 20 kilometers into the air and to assist during the descent alongside local air traffic controllers. Loon specifically designates predetermined landing zones where the balloons are either recycled or prepared for reuse by on-site recovery teams.

After the balloons are collected, they are closely analyzed for holes and tears, allowing examiners to alter their designs and make the balloons stronger if necessary.

Disaster Preparedness

Resilient balloons can go a long way in addressing disaster preparedness and this also presents a significant opportunity for Project Loon to make a difference. Natural disasters often wipe out infrastructure, leaving populations disconnected when communication is more vital than ever. Because Loon balloons fly at such high altitudes and do not require activation within close proximity, there is greater potential for connectivity.

For example, Loon’s balloons were deployed during an earthquake in Peru where they covered nearly 40,000 square miles and were used following a devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico. The company’s role in connecting families in the wake of disaster “is a lifeline” for those affected and can have a life-changing global impact.

Loon Chief Executive Alastair Westgarth has expressed concern about the effects of COVID-19 on disconnected populations. Because the virus has obstructed normalcy, connectivity could be the only way to continue education in developing nations. There are numerous agriculture, healthcare and education resources that, with internet connection, can preserve progression, one of Loon’s immediate goals.

Future Flights

To date, Loon has launched 1,750 4G balloons that have spent more than 1 million hours in the stratosphere and connected over 35,000 users, with the most successful balloon remaining aloft for 300 days and counting. The ultimate goal is to maintain a permanent 35-member fleet over eastern Africa in the hope of connecting and empowering developing nations.

– Natalie Clark
Photo: Flickr

Coronavirus Data
Currently battling cholera, measles, ebola revival and the new coronavirus — the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is experiencing one of the worst public health crises in the world. The DRC has seen about 9,300 cases of coronavirus, a small number given its population. Roughly 90% of these cases are located in the Kinshasa Province,  which has a 2.3% mortality rate as of July 2020. At first glance, this number looks very small and suggests that the government has effectively prevented the spread of COVID-19. However, a hard look at coronavirus data in the DRC, reveals otherwise.

These numbers are misleading — given that over 50% of the countries’ population live in rural areas. These regions do not have the same access to testing equipment nor the technology that would provide valuable coronavirus data. As a result, the government’s main objectives now are to slow the propagation of COVID-19, support communities with insufficient medical infrastructure and strengthen the healthcare system. Mobile data is central to accomplishing these goals and avoiding further economic contraction.

The Need for Mobile Data in the DRC

Data is vital to limiting the spread of any virus, as it allows governments to obtain necessary health equipment for communities — based on existing medical infrastructure. Also, proper information enables health officials to warn at-risk citizens, promptly. Mobile data has five stages in the fight against COVID-19:

  1. Population mapping
  2. Plotting population mobility
  3. Adding data about virus spread
  4. Preparing logistics and health infrastructure
  5. Modeling the economic impacts

In countries where most of the population uses the internet, coronavirus data is available in abundance. This, in turn, allows such governments to progress through these five phases, quickly. However, the DRC’s ability to obtain and use coronavirus data is hindered by limited infrastructure. Only 17% of the country’s population has access to electricity. Furthermore, around 70% of the population lives in poverty. Therefore, only 4% can afford the internet.

Improving Information Accessibility

Recognizing its need for data to fight public health crises, the DRC is increasingly funding improved internet access. Most notably, the country partnered with Grid3, a company that helps governments collect, utilize and map demographic and infrastructure data. This results in better population estimates and enables the country to plot its healthcare centers concerning that data. Additionally, the DRC has partnered with various mobile operators, digital health specialists and public health NGOs to jumpstart its data-driven coronavirus policy project. Such projects have already produced promising results, such as mobile connectivity has risen by one million connections from 2019 to 2020.

Data Is the Key

Ultimately, data will be essential to tracking and predicting the spread of the new coronavirus as communities begin to open up. Better data will create more informed policies that will better protect the DRC’s fragile healthcare system and economy. Although the U.N. has said that 50% of all workers in Africa could lose their jobs because of the coronavirus, (putting millions more Congolese at risk of poverty) the DRC’s recent data collection efforts are promising for the future of poverty in the DRC. If the government continues to value mobile data and access to technology, poverty can be greatly reduced. Likewise, widespread electricity and internet availability, as well as the advent of a modernized, more resilient economy will increase the quality of life in the DRC.

Alex Berman
Photo: Flickr

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

The Importance of Internet Access

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

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

Are Balloons Reliable To Provide Internet Access?

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

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

The Future of Reliable Internet In Kenya

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

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

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

Sarah Litchney
Photo: Pixabay