Thursday, February 24, 2011

Two thirds of the global population are still not connected to the Internet

It has been just over a month since announcing our plans to launch COMMStellation, and the global response has been nothing less than astounding. We expected the broadcast to garner a tremendous reaction, but we were shocked by the absolute demand for bandwidth from places like Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

Although anecdotal, I have spoken to many people over the years in the Western world about access to the Internet, and for the most part, they are under the impression that North America is completely wired as is much of the rest of the world. What’s shocking is that Internet users are still very much the minority. According to Internet World Stats 2010, about 4.9 billion of the Earths 6.9 billion citizens do not use the Internet. That number is astounding to me. What’s even more surprising is the average global Internet usage growth rate over the past 10 years is 444% with continents like Africa and South America which have grown at 2,357% and 1,032% respectively. An article on CNN from February 18th written by Amy Gahran proclaimed “One-third of U.S. households lack broadband Web access.”

The Internet, as many of us know and/or have experienced, is a complete game changer politically, economically and socially, with a very blurred line dividing them. Take, for instance, the recent revolution in Egypt. Speculation was that the revolution was inspired by a Facebook social network group called We Are All Khaled Saeed, which was supposedly set up by Google executive Wael Ghonim. With hundreds of thousands of followers, they were able to discuss and arrange plans to meet in an attempt to make positive change in their land. Asmaa Mahfouz was a female activist that also encouraged Egyptians to protest through videos that she posted on-line. And when the fighting broke out, what was one of the first things the Egyptian government did to try and bring order? Cut off all access to the Internet.

Citizens of the Earth have a voice and power which was not available 20 years ago. There is a complete global transparency that was not available 20 years ago. There is a real opportunity for the global population to make a better life for themselves that was not available 20 years ago.

As a child, I was separated from my father by 12,000 miles. Telephone communications were fiendishly expensive and were reserved for special occasions, so our main source of communications came in the form of a letter distributed through snail mail. A letter often took six weeks to two months round-trip. Then faxes came along and although it meant a trip to the post office before fax software was available, it cut the send and receive time down dramatically. Unfortunately, my father moved back home before the popularization of e-mail or instant messaging so I never had the benefits of those instant communications with him. I can assure you that for a child in his early teen years, moving from snail mail to the fax was life changing. Now, I have the ability to speak to my own children via video Skype in real time from most urban centres of the world. Travelling on business for three weeks no longer means that I have to be an absentee father. I can read my kids a story, help them with their homework, and even wish them sweet dreams. Another game changer currently reserved for those of us that are lucky enough to have access. The reality remains that those who have high-speed internet access could no longer live without it. We can now look forward to helping the other two-thirds of the globe get access to the high-speed internet and enjoy the same opportunities the rest of us have.