In the digital age, the internet has become an indispensable tool for communication, education, and economic opportunities. However, many societies, particularly those in developing and poverty-stricken regions, still face the challenge of limited access to the internet. The impact of this digital divide is far-reaching, affecting various aspects of life, including education, economy, healthcare, social connections, and empowerment opportunities. In this article, we will explore the significant implications of internet inaccessibility, particularly in poor countries, and discuss viable solutions to ensure that technology and its benefits are accessible to all.
Approximately 3.6 billion people in the world, nearly half of the global population, remain unconnected to the internet. In developing countries, only 19.5% of the population has access to the internet, compared to 87.7% in developed countries. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest internet penetration rate at around 25.9%, while Europe boasts the highest at 75.2%. In some regions of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, internet penetration rates are as low as 20% to 30%.
There are many areas that lack internet impact.
Globally, an estimated 1.5 billion children were affected by school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the critical role of internet access in supporting remote learning. Studies show that access to the internet and digital learning tools can improve educational outcomes, with students having a 13% higher likelihood of passing their exams. (World Bank) In Sub-Saharan Africa, where internet penetration is lowest, only 18% of primary schools have internet access, severely limiting educational opportunities for children. Access to educational resources through the internet is crucial for skill development and lifelong learning, contributing to economic growth and poverty reduction.
Lack of internet access hinders economic growth and opportunities for individuals and businesses. Studies suggest that a 10% increase in internet penetration can lead to a 1.38% increase in a country’s GDP. E-commerce and online markets provide a platform for local artisans and small-scale entrepreneurs to reach a global customer base. Without internet access, these businesses miss out on potential customers and income streams. Internet connectivity enables access to online banking and financial services, allowing individuals to save, invest, and manage their finances more effectively. Without such services, people in poverty-stricken regions are limited to informal and less secure financial systems.
The internet plays a crucial role in disseminating health-related information, especially during disease outbreaks and health emergencies. Access to accurate and timely information can help communities take preventive measures and seek appropriate healthcare. Telemedicine and telehealth services rely on internet connectivity to provide medical consultations and advice remotely, improving healthcare access in remote and underserved areas. Without internet access, healthcare professionals in rural regions may face challenges in accessing medical research, advancements, and best practices, hindering the quality of healthcare they can deliver.
Internet access can provide farmers with valuable information on weather forecasts, market prices, and modern agricultural practices. This knowledge can enhance agricultural productivity and profitability. Access to online resources and educational materials related to farming techniques can help farmers adapt to changing climate conditions and improve sustainability in agriculture. E-commerce platforms can connect farmers directly to buyers, reducing the dependence on intermediaries and ensuring fair prices for their produce. However, without internet access, these opportunities are lost.
The internet can empower marginalized groups, including women and girls, by providing them with access to information, educational resources, and economic opportunities. Digital literacy and internet access can bridge the gender gap in education and workforce participation, empowering women to pursue careers and leadership roles in various sectors. Internet connectivity allows women to access critical health information, resources for maternal care, and support networks, contributing to their overall well-being.
The electricity challenge
Approximately 789 million people in the world lack access to electricity, with a significant proportion residing in poverty-stricken regions. (International Energy Agency, 2021) In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 28% of the population has access to electricity, creating a significant barrier to internet connectivity. (Source: World Bank, 2021) Solar power presents a viable solution to the electricity challenge, with solar energy systems becoming more affordable and efficient, making it feasible for remote communities.
To achieve universal internet access, an estimated investment of $428 billion is required in developing countries. Solar energy capacity in developing countries grew by 40% in the past decade, with more than 2.4 million solar installations. In some successful cases, governments have introduced subsidized internet packages, resulting in a 40% increase in internet adoption among low-income households. Also, around 3.6 billion people lack basic digital skills, underlining the importance of implementing comprehensive digital literacy programs.
The impact of internet inaccessibility in poor countries goes beyond education and permeates various aspects of life. From hindering economic growth and healthcare access to limiting social connections and empowerment opportunities, the lack of internet access exacerbates existing inequalities. By investing in infrastructure, renewable energy solutions, and digital literacy programs, we can empower these communities to harness the full potential of the internet and drive positive change in their lives. Bridging the digital divide is not only a technological imperative but also a crucial step towards creating a more equitable and prosperous world. Through collective efforts, we can bridge the gap and make the benefits of technology accessible to all, leaving no one behind in the digital era.