Just 8 percent of Londoners don’t have broadband, but gap between developed and developing world is creating digital divide on ‘World Wi-Fi Day’
London is the most connected major city in the world, with just eight percent of the capital having no Internet access, but more than half (57 percent) of the world’s urban population are still unconnected, according to research published to coincide with ‘World Wi-Fi Day’.
The initiative is led by industry body Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), which wants governments and industry to focus on improving connectivity in both developed and emerging economies and broadband becomes increasingly important for public services, entertainment and the economy.
The WBA claims there is a significant ‘digital divide’ between the world’s largest and wealthiest cities, citing technological and political challenges as reasons.
For example, parts of London are unable to access superfast broadband and the government is unable to intervene because of European state aid regulations. This differs from rural locations which are served by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK).
World Wi-Fi Day
Europe has the lowest proportion of ‘urban connected’ with 17 percent, while the Middle East and Africa have 82 percent. Fifty-five percent of Latin America has not broadband but, somewhat surprisingly, a quarter (23 percent) of those in North America are unconnected.
“There is a clear divide between the digital haves and the digital have-nots. And while this divide generally mirrors socioeconomic trends around the world, there are surprisingly high levels of urban unconnected citizens in major cities,” said Shrikant Shenwai, WBA CEO.
“World Wi-Fi Day is an opportunity to recognise the contributions being made to help connect the unconnected around the globe, whether they be in major cities or rural communities. We are therefore calling on cities, governments, operators and technology companies, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, to come together today to help deliver affordable, sustainable connectivity for everyone, everywhere.”
WBA members, which include BT, Intel and Cisco, will launch projects aimed at solving connectivity challenges and New York, San Francisco, San Jose and Singapore have signed up to a ‘Wi-Fi roaming’ programme that lets citizens use public networks seamlessly across all four cities.
Connecting the unconnected
A number of companies, including Nokia and MediaTek, have sought to reduce the cost of mobile phones in a bid to boost access in developing nations, while Google has also investigated the use of using hot air balloons to offer satellite Wi-Fi.
But the most high profile project is arguably the Facebook-led Internet.org.
Facebook has presented Internet.org as a charitable venture, but it has been controversial. Digital rights groups have argued that the ‘zero rating’ of specific services by mobile operators (not charging customers for data consumption) hands companies like Facebook an advantage over others not involved with Internet.org.
The ‘Free Basics’ service was spun off from the wider Internet.org last year.
However Facebook has argued that Internet.org is helping “connect the unconnected” and that many users of the Free Basics service had signed up for full mobile tariffs. It claims half of users sign up for data services within 30 days in a bid to encourage operators to sign up.
Free Basics is available in 37 countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America – but not in India and Egypt where it is banned.