SEATTLE — “The internet is important to me because it helps me do my schoolwork,” says a Gambian middle school boy. Another student—a young girl in a basic computer lab—says, “it helps me to improve my way of living […] it helps me know what’s happening in my country.”
Gambian middle school students were featured in a video posted in April by the Gambian YMCA, talking about what the internet means to them. Like these students from Gambia, more and more Africans rely on internet access to keep them informed and connected; especially young people. As a student or professional in Africa, being denied reliable and affordable internet access means being denied a force for equality.
Africa has the fastest growing market for mobile technology. In its magazine, Africa Renewal, the U.N. reported that more money transactions on the continent are done on mobile networks than in actual banks — another indication of what many are calling a digital revolution in Africa.
But, while demand for the internet is rapidly increasing on the continent, access in most places remains expensive, slow and unreliable. One of the young students in the video confirmed that, while it is critical for his schoolwork, “the internet in Gambia is very expensive and most people can’t afford internet access.”
Indeed, roughly four out of five people do not have internet access in Africa today, according to the World Wide Web Foundation. Due to a lack of investment and government commitment, internet access in Africa remains the slowest and most expensive in the world. This is why The World Wide Web Foundation has been focusing on Africa recently, aiming to establish internet access as a basic right where it was recently a luxury.
Research increasingly shows the potential the internet has in reducing inequalities and poverty in Africa. IT Africa reported in July that according to new research, “mobile internet access is pivotal in reducing information asymmetries and equalizing access to wider social networks and opportunities.” On the other hand, “failing to make [mobile internet]accessible to disadvantaged groups” on the part of local governments, “could further deepen inequalities.”
Another recent study from the Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship expressed similar conclusions, finding that internet access has quickly created unprecedented opportunities for African millennials, but that this population remains underserved in the digital realm.
“Internet connectivity is bringing tremendous opportunities and revolutionizing home-grown solutions in Africa, as Africa’s millennial generation boost their own prospects using the internet technology to transform businesses, and drive entrepreneurship and economic growth,” the Australian researchers from the journal argued. However, the study claims that even though young African entrepreneurs have benefited tremendously from wider internet access, “they are yet to realize the full potential of the internet technology due to the lack of significant usage access to online opportunities.”
Helping Africa achieve this potential is the precise goal of the World Wide Web Foundation’s latest campaign, “FAST Africa”. Announced in April, the campaign demands fast, affordable, safe and transparent internet as a standard for all Africans. In May, the campaign had an “action week,” which reached millions of Africans in 20 countries via TV, radio, local news and social media. FAST Africa then moved on to present its demands at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Kigali, Rwanda and aims to attend other important summits in the future.
The World Wide Web Foundation created FAST Africa through “Web We Want”—its global initiative to establish the internet as a service for public good across the globe. “Ensuring FAST Internet in Africa will enable billions more to come online, and to take advantage of the life-changing socio-economic opportunities,” an article on the Web We Want website envisions enthusiastically.
FAST Africa insists on internet that is faster, more accessible and affordable to all Africans before 2020. Thus the movement fits into a global trend that will play a major role in ending poverty. The internet is perhaps the most valuable technological resource ever, and making it more accessible to everyone will certainly create a more prosperous world, with equality and opportunity for all.
– Charlie Tomb