As we speak about access to the internet for innovation and fair benefits through the knowledge economy for people in developing countries, one of the biggest points we raise is how expensive it is to transmit bits of data from one point to another, and how sometimes, basic infrastructural challenges in these developing countries make it expensive to deliver internet access. This impacts the growth of internet penetration in these countries negatively. In fact, an information technology company in South Africa did some research comparing the amount of time it took to deliver the same amount of data with a data card strapped to a pigeon across 80km (50 miles) with the national internet service provider, Telkom, and a ptp connection between their branch offices, and found that the pigeon delivered the data at the time their network connection was 4% into transferring the data. Technology ftw! I digress. For those who are curious, here’s the story.
Google released a new optional feature to the new update of their Chrome browser yesterday. According to them, this feature gives you the ability to cut down on your data transfer (bandwidth usage) by up to 50%. This is a priceless development for those who are passionate about giving everyone, everywhere in the world usable and unbridled access to the information superhighway. In essence, giving everyone a fair opportunity to learn, expose themselves and turn their lives around as a result. Teach a man to fish, you know the drill.
If we can invest more of the resources we give away in aid into educating people and giving them access to the internet, we can in the long term reduce poverty significantly and expose people to the information they need to be more productive contributors to the worldwide society.
If we significantly reduce the amount of data transferred in the process of delivering content on the internet to people in developing countries, then we are solving this problem from yet another perspective.
What are other things that could be done to increase internet penetration in developing countries significantly?
- Ramp up investment in telco infrastructure financed by new and innovative revenue streams that barter attention or human intelligence for access to the internet, like cable and free-to-air TV. See more about a similar model here.
- More efficient use of bandwidth driven by innovation in web technologies. Example, websites as single page apps that reuse static and semi-static media assets, and only transfer lean, compressed data to and from the server as the user consumes the information and/or experience. We’ve always relied on network-level caching for some of this. Why not include this into our process for generating web content? Eliminate the waste.
- Use renewable and sustainable energy sources (wind, biodiesel and/or solar) to power infrastructure, effectively reducing our reliance on the power grid in countries with poor electricity generation or distribution.
- Include web caching and compression technologies to our web clients, as in the case of Google’s new optimization feature. Thanks, Google.
The technology Google has implemented is open-source and usable on the server-side as well. People who control large amounts of content on the internet (and forward thinking internet service providers) should consider implementing these technologies both on their servers and closer to the last mile (for service providers). As a matter of fact, regulation agencies in countries that are serious about increasing broadband penetration should incentivize service providers for implementing these technologies.