It is almost impossible to imagine life without the internet. Everything that we do involves some form of internet activity, from online banking, to streaming Netflix, to texting. The rate of connectivity for all of us in the United States and other first world countries is unprecedented, and it is hard to believe that there are still people in the world who do not use internet technology like we do.
Unfortunately, more than half of the world still does not have regular internet access. There are a few people out there looking to change all that, and though it is a difficult challenge, everyone is hopeful that it can be done sooner than later.
Back in the year 2000, Bill Clinton addressed the “digital divide” of the internet have and have-nots at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum. Back then, the problems discussed regarding bringing internet to developing nations as a means to aid in their development were those of infrastructure, connectivity, and cost took center stage during talks.
For many of these countries leaders, they saw the internet as an important emerging technology, but ultimately a luxury, particularly when it comes to choosing between building infrastructure for internet access or vaccinating and feeding children in need.
What occurred was a “wait and see” policy, and for years that was where the discussions were left. The prospect of connecting the third world and developing countries to the internet in the same way that we are connected here became a future prospect to be tackled when conditions changed.
Fast forward to 2013, when the world once again took notice of the underlying deprivation that those in the third world suffer due to lack of paramount technologies. Over the past decade, beginning more than a decade after the Clinton-APEC forum, high-tech breakthroughs based on internet technologies have skyrocketed exponentially. We are in living in the heart of the digital revolution at a time when technology is developing so fast that the experts can barely keep up, let alone the laymen.
We are living in an age that will see robots in our homes, self-driving cars, and synthetic human brains which will learn about ongoing moon mining efforts. All of these predictions are set to arrive to the first world around the year 2020, just four short years from now.
This evolving technological innovation, though astounding and exciting, only compounds the problems of the digital divide. Not only do developing countries not have internet access, they have fallen decades behind on progress and technological advancements.
The struggle to bring internet to the developing world is a very real problem, one which some of the world’s top minds are trying to solve. While there have been many an inspired solution presented, no one served to address all of the infrastructure complications at hand.
One such group racing to figure out a way to help those left behind catch up is the United Nations. The launch of the U.N. Broadband Commission for Digital Development has been developed with one direct goal in mind—to bring access to the internet to everyone in order to offer everyone the same technologies and aid in international relations.
According to the Commission’s website “The Commission was established in May 2010 with the aim of boosting the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda, and expanding broadband access in every country as key to accelerating progress towards national and international development targets. It defines practical ways in which countries — at all stages of development — can achieve this, in cooperation with the private sector.” That’s an idea that we all can, and should, get behind.
The U.N.’s Broadband Commission has already fallen short of its goal to get 60% of the world access to the internet by the end of 2015. In the end, their efforts only reached about 43% of the world. The 60% mark has now been pushed to the year 2021—one year after we may potentially be mining the moon for resources.
Technology like internet-connected phones would mean so much to the developing world, potentially offering accessibility to a larger, more expansive world view. Ethnic, cultural, racial, and gender divides in remote regions of the world present larger problems, and by bringing in the connectivity of the internet, the hope is that those divides will dissolve over time.
Perhaps it is schools and students who will benefit most from introducing internet technologies to the developing world. Digital textbooks, online classes, conferences, outreach from all around the world—all of these can change the course of academia in the third world, particularly in locations where typical school environments are unavailable or inaccessible.
Education via the internet doesn’t stop with classroom lessons either. Education is a powerful tool in the political arena as well, offering those who once had no clear understanding of their political power a chance to see the vital role that they play in the political processes of their country.
Economic growth and opportunity are also viable positive outcomes for bringing the internet to the developing world. Internet is responsible for connecting businesses, driving spending, and will offer business opportunities to start-ups and small institutions who will, in turn, require a paid workforce.
Of course, once someone, be it Google, the United Nations, or Jana introduces internet technologies to those who have been without it, the technology will snowball quickly. There will be a short window of adaptation, followed by a deluge of new, exciting, and revolutionary information and ideas flowing from all the previously unheard voices who are currently without internet access.
While there is still a lot of talk about who will bring the internet to these countries, as well as how they will do it, what is clear is that until everyone has access to the internet, no one is truly universal, truly connected, or can truly see the future of humanity reflected in this digital revolution.
Whatever the future holds for the internet, one thing is for certain: the internet is a powerful tool, and until everyone has the same access to it, we as a human race, are not operating at our full potential.