The Global Development Buzz this week may be the buzz of a drone. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg recently announced plans to close the global internet access gap with the help of unmanned aerial vehicles, satellites and lasers.
Only about one third of the world’s population has access to the internet. In 2012, according to the World Bank, internet access among the population of Eritrea amount to less than 1 percent. The same year, that figure was as high as 81 percent in the United States, while 96 percent of some populations of Northern Europe enjoyed internet access.
According to the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, internet access may be a critical step towards development for many countries, by providing access to health care, education and basic social services. Bringing underdeveloped regions of the world into the internet circle could also spur greater economic growth. The linkup has the potential to connect otherwise resource-scarce enterprises with global markets, and, according to a recent study conducted by the consultancy firm Deloitte, could lift as many as 160 million people out of poverty by generating $2.2 trillion in GDP and creating 140 million jobs.
Facebook drones are one of the newer ideas, but Facebook isn’t alone in its efforts to close the internet access gap. Last year, Google announced a project to launch balloons into near space that will provide internet access to the remotest of areas. Launched in August 2013, Internet.org partners Facebook with six mobile phone giants to increase internet access worldwide. Earlier this year, the cooperation announced SocialEDU: a pilot project that will deliver free education to students in Rwanda via smartphones.
According to some experts, like Ovem’s Mark Little, the real challenges lay beyond the technology. Governments in undeveloped countries are likely to present barriers to using air space to provide alternative methods of internet access.
Challenges notwithstanding, plans made by giants like Facebook and Google focus interest on addressing and eradicating global poverty, and how internet access could prove a vital stepping stone towards achieving these goals.
– Ben Hayes