Maybe before reading this article, some of you were navigating the internet to buy something from the supermarket, to read the news, make a medical appointment, to study, to chat, or just to entertain yourself. Often, the use of technology in our daily lives comes up in a completely natural way. Nevertheless, just 59% of the people in the world had internet access in 2020, according to the Digital 2021 Global Overview Report elaborated by We Are Social and Hootsuite.
The fact that the percentage is high and it’s increasing shows that a great part of the world population continues to be marginalized. In 2016, the UN declared Internet access as a human right, stating that digital inclusion is also a way of social inclusion. This is because devices enable access to education, health care, information and culture, among other benefits.
One of the great advances to reduce the digital gap is the acknowledgment of Internet access as a universal service. Thus, Internet providers and Governments must satisfy the expanding demand to a determined price. In the United States, where 80% of the population has internet access in their homes, according to IDB´s (Interamerican Development Bank) report from February 2020, developed public policies as a subsidy to low-income people or from specific school districts. These actions also seek to reach people who live in rural districts. In regions like Latin America this is one of the hardest problems to solve.
In Colombia, the expensive development of fiber optic backbone covered 80% of the territory, but so far only 52% of its inhabitants have home internet access. In Chile, it rises to 87,5% and one of the initiatives, named Todo Chile Comunicado, began in 2010. According to the same report from IDB it was able to connect with data and mobile broadband connection to over 3,1 million people.
During 2020, South America averaged 72% of internet penetration, according to the Global Overview Report. Northern Europe achieved the best percentage (96%) and Eastern Africa the worst (24%). The development of the most relegated countries is the unfinished business of internet access, although there are some projects which give hope.
Facebook and Google lead different global initiatives. Zuckerberg’s company has associated with different mobile operators allowing access to certain websites through an application. With an important presence in some countries with a technological delay as Senegal, Angola and Kenya, the project had a high impact, although it received criticism for violating net neutrality. In parallel, the most popular search engine launched Project Loon ―creating a new layer of connectivity with helium balloons set in the stratosphere―. Nevertheless, the project stopped due to high costs, but it was folded to the most ambitious project: Elon Musk’s satellite internet. With his company, SpaceX, the Tesla’s CEO already sent more than 1500 satellites to the stratosphere and points out to operate in a low orbit to give a better and wider service. Starlink, as this satellite internet constellation is known, is already working on its test version in some countries.
During the last year, the pandemic-house life has made clear the possibilities that the internet gives. Far from being a simple entertainment, it showed to be one of the most important channels of social, labor and cultural inclusion. It has become a truly human right, therefore, the challenge is to provide each citizen access to this valuable and powerful tool for people´s personal and professional growth and development.