SEATTLE — Nearly 57 percent of the world’s population does not have cheap, available Internet access; that’s a total of 4.2 billion people who cannot access one of man’s greatest invention of the last 20 years. However, that number is beginning to shrink, as many of the world’s top tech companies and forward-thinking philanthropists are attempting to provide cheap Internet to the world’s poor.
Study after study has shown that expanded Internet access provides enormous economic and health benefits. Web connection in today’s global economy is necessary for economic production, and greater access to immediate information benefits doctors, nurses and patients alike.
Companies like Google, IBM and Elon Musk’s SpaceX are all working on ways to provide cheap Internet to those without it. The latter group has a plan of deploying an army of satellites to provide the world’s most rural communities with Internet, which has become a basic essential of modern life.
As the cost of broadband drops, hospitals can interact with doctors or other institutions from around the globe to receive consultation, advice and information on their patients. Pregnant mothers in rural communities can gain vital knowledge on prenatal care and healthy habits. Cheap Internet connectivity has also been shown to reduce sexually transmitted infections like HIV and Syphilis, due to the economic and informational benefits it brings.
A recent report published by the U.N. Broadband Commission cited the importance of Internet enfranchisement in developing countries. “It is increasingly vital to extend access to digital education services, new capabilities, culture, entertainment, healthcare, financial and commercial services, along with training and education,” said the report.
It is no surprise that the world’s strongest economies have the highest broadband access, and the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) have the lowest access. The U.N. has made expanding broadband one of its key goals, including the issue as a cornerstone of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
UNESCO Director Irina Bokova had this to say of expanding Internet access: “The 2030 Agenda recognizes the power of new technologies to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divide, to develop knowledge societies – we must do everything to support States in reaching these goals, especially developing States.”
According to the U.N., broadband Internet access “has the potential as a major accelerator of development.” The telecommunications and IT sector is a $1.67 trillion market, and it continues to grow. For developing nations to be able to tap into this area would have huge economic implications. Further, cheap Internet access gives individuals the tools to better manage their own economic situations and fuel entrepreneurial spirit.
The U.N. expects the SDGs to be fully implemented by 2030, but as tech companies like Facebook and Microsoft, others continue to fight to provide cheap Internet for all, we may reach a fully connected world before that deadline. Cheaper and cheaper broadband is yet another victory in the battle of ending global poverty.