Wake Up, World, The Internet is Coming

At 6:50 AM, I blearily open my eyes. Van Morrison’s “Days Like This” is playing softly near my pillow, kindly letting me know that it is time for my day to begin. I mindlessly grab my iPhone, shut off the alarm, and begin checking the notifications I had missed while asleep. I scroll through my roommate group messages to glean their plans for the day and relive the study struggles some had the night prior. I check Instagram and Snapchat to see how my night owl acquaintances have spent their past evenings, and marvel at sunrise snaps from the early risers. I switch over to my Gmail account and read theSkimm to get a quick glimpse of the state of global affairs before finally dragging myself out of bed for the day ahead.Image result for waking up gif

Before 7:00 AM, I have gathered enough information to know what the day will loosely entail for my close friends, my local BC community, and even the country and globe as a whole. From what I have learned from personal experience, popular culture, and this class, my morning routine is far from unique for those with access to smartphones and the internet. This cultural obsession with digital connection, though undoubtedly immense, is perhaps surprisingly far from universal.

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In terms of owning a smartphone or using the internet at least occasionally, there is a 33% gap between developed and developing nations (2015). In these developing areas, only 54% of inhabitants have access to a smartphone or use the internet. Once the smartphone element of this statistic is eliminated, it is estimated that nearly two-thirds of the developing world lack internet access. Despite this, digital presence in emerging markets is rapidly expanding.

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Facebook, for example, launched the Internet.org project in August of 2013. The platform, available in 53 countries, aims to provide affordable internet access to the developing world. The application that delivers this service, dubbed Free Basics, gives users access to a number of selected sites and search engines, and of course, Facebook. Zuckerberg pioneered the project on the grounds that connectivity is essential to humanity.

Connectivity is a basic human right” – Mark Zuckerberg, 2014

Despite this, Zuckerberg has received heat for Internet.org from critics in the past, who argue that the selectivity of the sites provided violates the net neutrality laws that Facebook fought so hard for in the United States. The critics do have some merit, as a 2015 poll found that 65% of Nigerians think “Facebook is the internet“. Despite this, Internet.org has still provided internet access to over one billion users, making Internet.org the largest initiative of its kind. Further, Free Basics provide users with just that: free access to basic websites. But after using the Free Basics platform, 50% of new users will pay for data after just a single month of exposure to internet access. Clearly, the benefits of digital connection outweigh the costs–even in the developing world.

Google, not one to be out-innovated, has additionally pioneered a project that aims to increase internet access across the globe. Developed by their Google X engineering lab, Project Loon is “a network of balloons travelling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters”. These balloons travel through the stratosphere above rural areas carrying signals from Telecommunication companies that have partnered with Google for the project. Users with phones can then connect directly to the network via LTE when a balloon is in their range. In 2015, Project Loon balloons had travelled over 17 million km–and one record balloon managed to cover 17 countries in a single voyage.

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Elon Musk additionally believes he can solve the issue. Musk’s SpaceX plan is to launch 4000 internet satellites into low-orbit–a project that would cost a mere $10 billion to execute. Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has additionally entered the market, purchasing a number of internet satellite licensing rights just last year. It is rumored that Space X and Branson’s OneNet could collaborate on a joint project, but we just might get to Mars before the task is completed.

Overall, expanding internet access to the developing world is an important and exciting process. The global community has yet to experience total internet access–but with continued investment and innovation, 100% coverage is not out of range.

9 comments

  1. adamsmea89 · ·

    This was a great post, really interesting! I think Facebook does not necessarily deserve all of the backlash they have received from their plan to give everyone internet access, because they are still helping countries that would have no other way to access internet even though there is a self serving aspect to it. I do not think many businesses take on initiatives that are not self serving in any way. It is interesting to see all of the competition that has formed over the last 2 years in this area, and it will be interesting to see who succeeds.

  2. bishopkh1 · ·

    Great post! It’s cool to see so many huge tech companies on the forefront of such an important issue. However, it isn’t surprising that Facebook’s Internet.org would communicate that Facebook = Internet. I’d be surprised to see Facebook tackling such a difficult (and expensive) initiative if it wasn’t extremely beneficial for them. Now that Facebook has incorporated so many different features into their platform, it really could be the only site necessary for people in developing countries. I don’t think it’s Facebook’s responsibility to host other websites – if they are spending the money to get wifi to developing countries, but all means they should have control of that product.

    1. cmackeenbc · ·

      That is a great point–FB has expanded its features since the initiative was launched. I understand the critical argument that if you are going to grant access to the web, grant fair access to everything, but as a tool for communication, money transfers, and information search Facebook is nearly all encompassing. I guess Internet.org should just be more specific about their goals and what the tool is really there for moving forward.

  3. skuchma215 · ·

    Great post, it made me think of how radically different my life would be without access to the internet. Just like you, my morning routine and most of my day is pretty dependent upon to the internet to inform myself and connect with others. I think what tech visionaries like Elon Musk and Richard Branson are doing is an invaluable human service. I can understand Facebook’s incentive to connect people (since new internet users would be using Facebook) but I wonder what incentive Google or Elon Musk has to connect people, beside philanthropy.

    1. fernaneq4 · ·

      The incentive is money of course! While it may appear to be philanthropy now, these growing nations have millions of people and therefore millions of potential consumers! Facebook can begin gathering data (similar to what they have on us) and see what these people want and need. It’s brilliant to be the first to break into this untapped market and have it seen as philanthropy. I followed the like regarding the net neutrality laws and I enjoyed some of the outlooks that article took: “Mark Zuckerberg’s plan for world domination,” a “pernicious, dangerous, [and] malignant” way to force-feed the Facebook platform to that steadily diminishing fraction of the world’s population that is not yet signed up.” Overall, great article! and great comment Sam!

  4. Sounds like my morning as well (what happened while I was asleep). Facebook definitely has something to gain when more people are connected to the internet. It is going to increase Facebook users and put more eyeballs on ads. Saw a commercial for the Facebook airplane while flying the other day on JetBlue. These things have the wingspan of a commercial airliner and have the same power consumption as 3 hair dryers. By leveraging solar panels they can hypothetically stay aloft indefinitely and deliver internet coverage to places unreachable by traditional infrastructure. Check it out: http://for.tn/1KC0Jkh

  5. Great post! I really liked how you included a pull quote and a GIF – design elements like these make posts much more compelling. I did a presentation last year on the Space X program, so I’m really happy you referenced it. It’s such an interesting initiative, especially when you think about how the engineers and project leaders probably really had to “dumb down” their goals in explaining them to the public. I hadn’t heard about Project Loon before, but it sounds like a really cool idea and I’m definitely going to look into it more!

  6. Great post. It’s really unfortunate that some are not given the same opportunities as others, simply as a result of not having a smartphone. One article in the Wall Street Journal recently talked about how smartphones are supposed to be an equalizer across all markets; unfortunately, in some countries, having smartphones are still regarded as too much freedom. The following article that I read focused on India: http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-the-vast-majority-of-women-in-india-will-never-own-a-smartphone-1476351001 . It is great, thought, that people like Zuckerberg have such a great focus on bringing people together with the help of the internet. Hopefully it’s just a matter of time before it becomes a reality. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Nice post. I actually think that the 54% connectivity number is actually pretty remarkable. I think connecting the developing world is one of the major steps forward for digital technology.

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