Throughout the 2010s, we've seen a mixed bag of improvements and continued challenges around internet adoption and access across the developing world. Global analysts are still looking into this, even today.
According to the Alliance for Affordable Internet, as the developed world moves from 4G to 5G, individuals in the developing world still face high rates of insufficient access. A new report connected to Unesco and other partners suggests that 90% of people in these regions are without a “decent” internet connection, and only 44% have any kind of basic access at all.
However, in some target countries that have been on the radar since 2015, there has been a real, measurable improvement in broadband connectivity and Internet access. (Also read: 10G Broadband is Coming: Here's What You Need to Know.)
Indonesia: A Case Study
Google's ambitious moonshot, Project Loon, saw the company was target areas of Indonesia where Google sent balloons over impoverished areas to provide better rates of broadband access there.
At the time, reporters in 2015 indicated that only 33% of Indonesians had internet access.
Coming back to this scenario today, we see that Alphabet has wrapped up the project, with many insiders considering it somewhat of a failure.
“Despite its failures and numerous crash-landed balloons, Loon managed to achieve some noteworthy milestones and paint the path forward to similar future ventures,” wrote Ayush Jalan at MakeUseOf in October of 2021. “For instance, in February 2016, Google reported achieving a stable connection for many hours between two distant balloons stretching over 62 miles (100 km), peaking at 155Mbps.”
Jalan also provided this rationale for why the project didn’t become more of a success:
“Cassidy and his team were trying to deliver 3G internet access to fixed areas on the ground via a high-altitude platform,” Jalan wrote. “But doing that invites a lot of trouble. For one, a platform like that is subject to the powerful winds of its altitude. Second, trying to keep it in one place is highly complex and expensive.”
Loon's closure is still pretty new: Reports showed that Google was still operating in 2020, where a balloon lasted 312 days in the field. Then, in 2021, as Loon was disbanding, there was the report of $10 million to support Kenyon efforts at internet improvement.
This, plus other announcements, shows that the efforts continue today to deliver better internet coverage to these types of communities. (Also read: What is the difference between mobile and wireless?)
Improvements in Global Internet Access
In terms of actual improvement, new numbers indicate that 73% of Indonesians now have access to Internet services. That's a big jump from where the country stood in 2015.
Furthermore, officials and academics are still researching how to improve access even more. A World Bank blog in 2022 talks about factors in online inequity across Indonesia, including age, higher education and location in urban or rural environments.
“By improving access to the global digital marketplace and expanding road access to remote villages, Indonesia can reduce price disparities between urban and rural markets that arise from expensive logistic or travel costs,” the authors write. “In addition, specific educational programs for low-income families can ensure that children are able to learn digital skills to avoid intergenerational transmission of ‘digital poverty’ and lack of digital opportunities.”
Programs like these point to the specific needs of subgroups to better penetrate communities with less Internet access.
Action Plans for Affordable Internet Around the Globe
So what else is happening now when it comes to redefining internet access initiatives?
Some of the groups looking at internet equity are bullish on efforts to improve global access: for example, the Internet Society reveals its own action plan taking place in 2022 that includes things like:
- Deploying new community networks.
- Improving existing networks.
- Delivering infrastructure and resources.
- Fostering sustainable infrastructure.
- Building new technical communities.
There’s also the prospect of measuring rates of success through the Pulse platform maintained by the society and various stakeholders intent on reaching more of the world’s citizens with online access.
Not to be outdone, private sector parties are also contributing to better global Internet access. This is exemplified in reporting from TNW talking about Talk360 working on affordable Internet for marginalized communities:
“Minimizing the trust deficit is key when bringing relevant solutions to these people,” says Talk360 CEO Hans Osnabrugge in a rare address of the actual relationship context of delivering these services. “Trust does not come easy, especially if your trust is broken too often, and/or your community is neglected by companies and government.”
That’s something carriers and corporations should consider carefully in any market, factoring in concerns like cost, ease of use and customer support. (Also read: 10 Strictest Data Privacy Laws By Country in 2022.)
The vanguard of companies and organizations working on global internet access have shuttered some programs and gone back to the drawing board, but they continue to make advances in delivering better internet connectivity to more of those places that were previously known as "internet dark zones" around the globe.