When you think of a third world country, chances are you aren’t thinking of Internet access. You might be surprised to learn that many developing countries are working hard to provide Internet to their populations, often in surprising ways. The majority of these countries, particularly India and African countries, are also receiving a helping hand from the West, with Americans and Canadians helping to develop the technology required to access the Internet, even with a minimal infrastructure.
While only about 20% of people living in third world countries use the Internet (compared to 69% in the Western world), that figure varies greatly depending on the country. For example, India’s population features just 8% Internet users, while China has a whopping 36% of the population online. Brazil is pushing 40%, all according to TheEconomist.
Why Internet is Scarce in Developing Countries
There are a few reasons as to the scarcity of Internet access in many third world countries. In India, according to The Economist, infrastructure is missing, making it more difficult to integrate access and find fixed wireless broadband providers.
While Europeans enjoy a whopping 90,000 or so bits of bandwidth, in Africa, it is still around 2,000 bits, according to the latest ITU stats. This means access is very limited and very slow. Combined with first world pricing that could be the equivalent of a week’s salary or even more, depending on the country, you have the recipe for a country with virtually no access to online information.
Google Steps In
Interestingly enough, in India, Google is making an effort to bring Internet access to the masses. The Internet giant has sent the Google Internet bus to drive through India, providing free access to a mobile cyber cafe. The effort has introduced approximately 1.6 million people to the Internet since 2009. The idea is to get kids and young people interested in getting online. Then they sign up for an Internet connection through Google’s state-owned partner, BSNL. The company provides, for $5 a month, limited access broadband to its users.
Country Infrastructure Advances
The Economist also looks at what the government is doing for the people of India. At the moment, a plan is underway to provide Internet access to the country, starting with the village councils, of which there are 250,000. These will each have fiber optic broadband connections and from there, the state will continue to expand, providing village councils with computers, as well as access.
Mobile access is often more developed in third world countries than other types of communication, and according to Steve Bratt of the WorldWideWebFoundation, that could be a good start. It’s possible to get online using mobile phones, but the Internet in most developing countries is not very useful for local searches. With so few people online, the content is simply not there yet. However, the pricing for broadband is insanely expensive, making it virtually impossible for the average person in some countries to get online. Bratt suggests that an intermediate IT solution be made available, where people could spend $5 and call in to ask questions such as where to find a doctor or where the best place to sell their crops is.
InternetWorldStats shows that Costa Rica, one of the more developed countries in Central America, has a good IT infrastructure in place, providing broadband, Internet, and digital television, along with VoIP.
CBCNews explains that Raja Singh Tuli and Suneet Singh Tuli, Indian brothers raised in Canada, have a plan for making it easier for those in more remote areas to get online. They formed a company called DataWind and created a tablet, the UbiSlate, which picks up internet using mobile signals. This is not a new idea, but the brothers have made it a solid, affordable option, planning to retail the tablet for about $60 in India. If their plan works, the tablet could go worldwide. The tablet is designed to work faster and more efficiently so that it can run at decent speeds even on the slower mobile networks.
It’s obvious that first world countries have a lot to offer developing areas of the world. With more resources at hand, it is often easier for those in first world countries to develop the technology like the UbiSlate to help those in developing areas. The end result will be economic growth across the board as those in poorer countries are able to access sites like eBay and even to set up their own websites. Language learning possibilities expand, as well, and connections can help those with skills and products reach hundreds of thousands of potential clients.
Third world countries are still considerably behind in many areas, including IT infrastructure, but with the help from both governments and first world countries, access to the Internet is fast becoming a reality. Experts expect to see access increase drastically over the next several years as technology makes it possible to use the minimal infrastructure to provide access to more people, even in more remote areas.