SEATTLE, Washington — The developed world uses the internet constantly. Social media alone takes up just shy of 2 ½ hours per day on average in the U.S. It’s hard to imagine a life without online games, maps or instant weather forecasts. However, many who would benefit from such technologies don’t have access to the infrastructure to support it. Only 59% of people use the internet. This is not only an issue for those without a connection. Improving internet accessibility would also increase the market for web services and give resources to workers so they can be more productive. Thus, many for-profits and non-profit companies alike are tackling the issue.
Companies Improving Internet Accessibility
Microsoft is a well-known computer company that has a mission to supply internet to Africa. A program the founders call the Airband Initiative is the arm through which Microsoft is providing that support. First, they are using the same principles used to connect rural American communities to extend access in a similar manner in Africa. The goal of connecting 40 million people in 3 years might be one that is unachievable for other organizations. However, it is possible for Microsoft to do because of its size and philanthropic founder, Bill Gates.
Internet para Todos (Internet for All) is based in and serving countries in Latin America. This group provides internet-accessible technologies like cell phones and towers at low-profit margins to poorer communities. It also gets funding from companies like Facebook to further subsidize the prohibitively high cost of the internet. By putting development and connectivity over profit, they can focus on making real changes to the people the organization serves. Latin America needs this support, as 40-50% of the population in countries like Paraguay and Bolivia live in rural settings where people are less likely to get a connection.
The internet may seem like an unnecessary luxury when 815 million people are undernourished and 15% of the world is illiterate. However, in our modern world, it is now a requirement for success. Improving internet accessibility could also solve extreme poverty in a variety of ways.
With more companies in the world now than ever, it can be hard for new ones to gain a foothold. This is especially true without the benefits of advertisements that reach many people. Even though only about 50% of people worldwide use the internet, 66% of companies use online advertising, with higher proportions for increasingly larger firms.25
If regulated well enough, businesses bring opportunities and advancement that charity alone cannot. The web, then, can indirectly allow the poor to establish functional and profitable businesses.
Ease of Access
In many places around the world, education and resources like medicine can be hard to come by. School fees alone can be up to $1.25 per day per child, which is unrealistic when many live below the poverty line, earning only $1.90 per day.
Technology may not increase the number of teachers or directly lower the cost of school. However, technology can give institutions more options. For example, online schooling could reduce the expense of maintaining a physical environment.
Texting and other forms of instant communication can also save lives. Warning systems in places with increasingly severe weather can give people a necessary heads up. In Southeast Asia, typhoons during the monsoon season are regular and devastating. They can claim up to 6,300 people without sufficient warning, but technology could help save some of those lives.
The internet is not only a luxury but a necessity, making the improvement of internet accessibility crucial. Foreign aid that supports this connective technology will improve the lives of many and should be a priority for the US.
– Michael Straus
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