The Internet is becoming the town square in the global village of tomorrow – Bill Gates
Internet all the Way
Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has announced that they will beam free internet to the people of Africa. The move is part of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative whose purpose is to provide internet access to certain areas in the continent that can’t have such facilities. Satellites will play a large role in the initiative as well. How might free internet access prove beneficial for the people of Africa? How might it affect its economy? All this will be discussed in this post.
As mentioned, Facebook plans to launch free internet access to some parts in Africa. In order to make such a prospect a possibility, the social network plans to work in collaboration with French satellite operator Eutelsat Communications. The basic premise is to make more people in Sub Saharan Africa online through a series of internet gateways, terminals and satellite technology. VP of Internet.org Chris Daniels has this to say about the program; “Facebook’s mission is to connect the world and we believe that satellites will play an important role in addressing the significant barriers that exist in connecting the people of Africa. We are looking forward to partnering with Eutelsat on this project and investigating new ways to use satellites to connect people in the most remote areas of the world more efficiently.”
The ultimate aim of the program is to make the World Wide Web accessible to largely remote regions in Africa which are located far beyond where local mobile networks can reach. The two companies claim that they will, “…pursue their ambition to accelerate data connectivity for the many users deprived of the economic and social benefits of the Internet.”
Most users in Africa access the internet through mobile phone. According to a report released by the Pew Research Center, about two thirds of polled people in areas like Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Uganda own mobile phones. Ownership was higher in major areas like Nigeria and South Africa where 9 out of ten people owned the technology.
Of course, as all breakthrough issues go, this one has also had its fair share of controversy. Critics allege that the move is a sneaky way for the social media giant to promote its own offerings over what other content providers offer. Other issues addressed included security and user privacy concerns. Founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg addresses these allegations by claiming that the ultimate goal of Internet.org is to ensure that two thirds of the world’s offline population is able to go online like the rest.
According to a post on Quartz Africa, the cost of data is the greatest barriers to extended internet usage in most African countries. This makes online access a luxury to most residents. Therefore, if a service offers free internet access, people are bound to pay attention.
Internet as a Human Right
It is largely believed that these initiatives will transform the country’s lagging economy for the better. According to a post on GOOD, the World Bank estimates the country’s GDP to rise by 1.3% for every 10% increase in broadband usage. The post mentions a report released by McKinsey that claims that “…if internet spreads in Africa as quickly as mobile phones did in the 2000s, this access will bring $300 billion to the continent’s economy.”
Facebook’s initiative also sparked a host of similar movements in the country. The country’s third largest internet provider Cell C started offering services such as Wikipedia and Facebook access for free.
Impact of Online Access on Global Economies
An article posted in 2014 on Forbes.com argues that it is fast and affordable internet access that will be “…this generation’s greatest leveler.” If Facebook’s upcoming initiative is any indication, it seems that this claim is fast on its way to becoming reality.
It is also apparent that online access has the potential to transform any country’s economy for the better especially in retailing industries. Take retail giants Wal-Mart and Target as examples. Both brands manage their extensive chains as well as warehouses, changing inventories, sales and distribution routes online. As a result, these brands don’t have a problem with working with major logistics brands like FedEx and UPS. Big retailers now rely on online ecommerce for a major portion of their profits. They have Smartphone technology to thank for that. The technology allows people to shop online without restricting themselves to one location to do so.
For example, let’s say that you have an important birthday coming up. Unfortunately, you have forgotten all about it. You can’t take time off from your busy schedules and deadlines to visit the local shops. So you do what most people in your position resort to in this day and age; you go online, visit your friends favorite store’s ecommerce platform and start ordering away. All you have to do is browse the items on offer, make your selection and drop it on your own virtual cart. Online transactions make the process fast and easy. Your order arrives during the next few days and before the party.
The fact of the matter is that people like convenience. Facebook’s insistence to provide free internet access to a portion of one of the most destitute places in the world aims to do just that. Most people take online access for granted and are oblivious to the fact that it is perceived as a luxury in most parts of the world. Africa is just one example. However, if Facebook’s initiative proves to be successful, the sky is the limit to what is in store for online accessibilities in the future.
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