In societies where smartphones have flooded the market and “let me Google that” is an everyday phrase, it’s easy to forget that the Internet isn’t as evenly spread across the entire world. In Africa, only 16% of the population is online, and 38% in Arab states.
Worldwide, 61% of people are not using the Internet.
Studies show that computer and Internet access is a crucial resource for connecting and educating people, as well as providing new opportunities. In a study done across eight countries, however, researchers found that public access venues were the only Internet source for a third of the users surveyed. Getting the Internet into the hands of that 61% has become a major priority for companies like Google and Facebook.
Facebook’s efforts involve an app two years in the making called Facebook for Every Phone. The app allows users to access a simplified Facebook interface through inexpensive feature phones that are still the norm in developing countries. Some of these countries, like India and Mexico, are the fastest-growing markets for Internet and social media use.
100 million people now regularly access Facebook through simple feature phones.
Facebook usage has become one of the most prevalent ways of accessing the Internet in these areas. “In a lot of foreign markets, people think that the Internet is Facebook,” Clark Fredricksen, a vice president at eMarketer, says in a New York Times article.
Google is taking it one step further with a project that will bring actual Internet access to rural and remote areas. Project Loon is composed of a network of high-tech, high-flying balloons that carry equipment providing Internet access over large areas. Flying at 66,000 feet, these balloons are designed to fill in the current coverage gaps and help bring people back online after disasters.
While Project Loon is still in the early stages of development, the first pilot test was already conducted over New Zealand’s South Island in June 2013.
These two initiatives, along with many others, promise to bring us closer to a truly connected world.