Magazine article PM Network

Crossing the Digital Divide

Magazine article PM Network

Crossing the Digital Divide

Article excerpt

In high-tech global hot spots, the Internet has transformed nearly every aspect of daily life. But for more than 60 percent of the world's population, the digital revolution remains out of reach. To get more people online-and spur Internet-enabled growth-developing countries and global organizations are prioritizing IT infrastructure projects.

About three-quarters of the world's offline population lives in just 20 countries-and these people are disproportionately rural and low-income, according to McKinsey. In these areas, obstacles to Internet adoption involve infrastructure, affordability and local levels of digital literacy.

To overcome these challenges, the government of the Philippines is sponsoring a program to significantly expand Internet access. Launched late last year, the US$31 million Free Wi-Fi Internet Access in Public Places initiative will help connect citizens to online public services, such as health and education.

"In rural areas, many Filipinos are unaware of the wealth of information available on the Internet that can significantly change their lives," says Louis Napoleon Casambre, executive director, information and communications technology office, Republic of the Philippines, Quezon City, Philippines. "The project aims to accelerate economic, social and education opportunities and reduce the digital divide."

Like other such initiatives, the Philippines program will rely on public-private partnerships. It will establish connectivity via private-sector Internet service providers, but in areas where the private sector has no broadband infrastructure, the government will build its own, Mr. Casambre says.

Similarly, the Indian government's US$18 billion Digital India program aims to provide Internet access to everyone in the country via a national fiber-optic network. India is home to 1.1 billion offline citizens-the world's largest disconnected population.

By 2017, a US$5.9 billion project will expand rural Internet coverage from 130,000 villages to 250,000. The program also plans to provide cloud storage for citizens, make banking and other private data accessible on mobile phones, and offer free Wi-Fi at 250,000 government schools.

"The entire country will be covered by broadband within three years, and the Internet will reach the most remote villages," Ravi Shankar Prasad, India's minister of communications and IT, told Forbes. "India is sitting at the cusp of a huge digital revolution."

To meet its ambitious timeline and guarantee successful project execution and Internet usage, the government plans to hire 10 high-level project leaders to oversee the Digital India program.

Into Orbit

While large-scale government initiatives such as Digital India work to connect large swaths of disconnected populations via traditional means-laying fiber-optic cables in the ground-the private sector is devising groundbreaking innovations.

Satellite communications organization 03b Networks gets more communities online by bypassing two roadblocks that have plagued connectivity projects in many emerging markets: the high cost of installing fiber-optic cables and the high latency (or time delay) of traditional, high-orbit satellites. 03b's solution sends satellites into medium orbit, about 5,000 miles (8,062 kilometers) above the Earth, which reduces both latency and costs.

In addition, an 03b satellite has the capacity to handle exponentially larger amounts of data-up to 1. …

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