Liberalizing and Stabilizing Developing Nations Through Broadband Accessibility

A few weeks ago we reported on how Brazil is positioning itself to become the Internet and virtual world development hub of South America.

Img_splashBricNations

Now a report just released by
market research firm Strategy Analytics has the data that shows
developing nations are likely in for a telecommunications boom over the
next year, with Brazil leading the way.

Pixels and Policy takes a
look at the report and what a mass expansion of broadband Internet
means for the developing half of the world.

Riding the Liberalizing Wave of Cheap Access

 Four
developing nations account for nearly 50% of the world population.
These are the much-acronymmed BRIC nations: Brazil, Russia, India, and
China. Each nation is large and growing, both in terms of national
wealth and population, but "developed world" services like broadband
internet access lag behind.

According to a Strategy Analytics report first covered in Business Wire,
these four nations could account for over 250 million new broadband
Internet users over the next three years. In short, this means a near
doubling from 2009 access levels. In total over 300 million BRIC
residents will be wiring up to experience the power of always-on
Internet.

Strategy Analytics Director Ben
Piper made an interesting point that outlines how cross-cultural the
demand for broadband access truly is:

"While the BRIC designation can be a useful lens through which to
view the region, the four countries are more different than similar on
many levels," said Piper. "We see broadband adoption playing out
differently in each."

Russia and China routinely
quarrel over geopolitical issues, and the Chinese have a dog in the
fight with India over disputed territory in Kashmir, but the citizens
of these rising powers are intent on increasing the flow of
information.
As we learned from Iran,
the increased flow of information over the Internet makes brazen state
corruption and electioneering much harder to paper over.

Reforming Cultures Through YouTube Diplomacy

India is already grappling with the cybercultural changes
that come from broadband internet access, streaming video, pirated
movies, and virtual worlds. As ever faster internet connections give
young Indians their first taste of virtual worlds (and the
possibilities presented within them), India's national newspaper
worries that fewer Indian youths will accept government reasons for why
standards of living still lag behind on the subcontinent.

Chinese gamers have protested the actions of developers in-world,
causing enough of a stir that the Chinese government stepped in to stem
the rising tide of discontent. Perhaps they see a shadow of Tiananmen
in the virtual assemblies. A spate of uncommonly direct criticism between high-level Chinese bureaucrats over restrictions on the popular online game World of Warcraft only deepens suspicions.

The
advance of broadband Internet and the information it carries can't help
but change cultures. It is as powerful a force as the arrival of radio
or television in these developing nations, and with the population of
Internet-capable households expected to spike over the next three
years, it's possible the next major government reforms could find their
roots in a virtual protest.

There
is no way of knowing with certainty what kind of developments will come
from the arrival of large-scale broadband in BRIC nations. But if
recent trends are any indication, broadband will bring with it the
liberalizing force of large-scale communication and a multicultural
dialogue fueled by YouTube, streaming music, and virtual worlds.

Liberalizing Eastern Africa, One Net Connection at a Time

One of Africa’s most intractable problems is the unbalanced
distribution of its population. In Kenya, for example, the majority of Kenyans
work in rural fields and cart their wares a significant distance into the
capital of Nairobi or the port city of Mombasa.

Since families hand land down through generations and one
farm can have decades of family ties, rural workers are hesitant to abandon the
profession that is their lives.

This leads to substandard wages and poor
education in rural areas while jobs go unfilled due to a lack of skilled young
workers in urban centers.

As
FutureBlogger notes
, the arrival of broadband could cut through the problem
of physical distance by bringing education to rural centers and
service-industry jobs to the farm. Writer Marisa Vitols elaborates:

1. Education: Getting kids online will afford them access
to information and virtual learning. As opposed to many physical African
schools, the web actually has resources, cutting-edge information, and teachers
up-to-date with current technologies.

2. Economic Infrastructure: Getting adults online is like
getting them to a job – and one that actually pays. How many people could work
in virtual worlds or do some of the more-or-less simple administrative tasks
already being outsourced to developing nations?

Both are valid points, and as we covered earlier this week when ClaseMovil
announced its virtual education program
for Latin American students, there
is an expanding market interest in using the distance-bridging power of the
internet and virtual worlds to educate and employ those traditionally left out
by distance or poverty.

Virtual Worlds, Real Jobs

So, what does this mean for Africa? Big things. According to the CIA, 40%
of Kenya is unemployed
and 50% are below the poverty line. If even 2% of these
unemployed could find work in one of the many virtual call centers springing up,
nearly one million Kenyans could be pulled
from poverty and into employment.

Employment is meaningful when
many Kenyans die of preventable diseases and illnesses of poverty.
Expect to see Kenyans ready to jump at any opportunity to do work that
supplements their often subsistence rural income.

For a nation with a work force of only 17 million, the internet and access
to virtual worlds means a lot more than a chance to play World of Warcraft.

But
how would these impoverished rural Kenyans gain access to the internet? Turn
to some of the many international nonprofits
currently outfitting Kenya
with functional computer and telecommunications systems.

High unemployment and disillusionment with the Kenyan government led to bloody
riots in late 2007
. With access to the internet and the job and educational
tools it provides, suddenly the daunting task of bringing Kenya’s education and
employment up to educational standards seems a little easier.

The arrival of broadband presents
Kenya with its best opportunity in decades to save and improve millions
of lives. As other countries around the world gain access to cheap and
accessible Internet access, as well as virtual telecommuting, we're
likely to see more people exchanging information and potentially
liberalizing ideas than ever before.

One thought on “Liberalizing and Stabilizing Developing Nations Through Broadband Accessibility”

  1. Again, you are talking through your hat.
    Whatever the case for Brazil, severe human rights problems remain there, as in India. They may not crack down on the Internet, I’m not aware of it, although in India, there have been hate groups that attack liberal bloggers.
    But the Russian government, one of the BRIC “wonders,” has very much taken over the Russian Internet, with state operatives having acquired many of the companies and domains. More importantly, they’ve completely taken over broadcast media. As much cell phone and Internet penetration as there is in Russia, there are many areas that only have TV and radio, and no Internet, which is costly.
    The space for free media is very, very small in Russia now with only small online newspapers and a Moscow radio station and some Live Journal blogs holding it open. This month Novaya gazeta was blocked for days; its journalists have been murdered over stories like the war in Chechnya or corruption in business, and death threats are common.
    Broadband is not an automatic for liberalization. It can be seized by hegemonic states in countries with weak civil society, and prove a boon to uncivil actors just as much as it can be used by civil society activists who liberalize society.
    There’s also terrible naivete and ignorance on display here with this very provincial American assumption that if you just put millions of people online from these countries, they will emerge fullblown as New England-style democrats and California-style business stabilizers. Baloney.
    Nothing could be further from the truth. Do you read any foreign languages? Do you *read* the Internets of these countries? In every case, very extreme religious or political forces have seized the broadband, and in some cases, particularly with China and Russia, the state pays sock puppets to go and bedevil and distract online forums to maintain illiberal state control. This is hugely organized (the “50 cent party” in China getting paid per post, Pavlovsky and Surkov and their operatives in Russia — and the Nashi phenomenon flash-mobbing on behalf of Putin everywhere online and on the street).
    Any policy about Internet freedom has to have a plan for how illiberalism and terrorism will be addressed online while keeping freedoms intact. That’s a serious diplomatic and educational challenge and one that mere declarative statements about supposed benefits, such as Hillary Clinton has been making, and as you’re making, don’t begin to address.
    Brazen state corruption may not be easier to paper over when you have the Internet, but it depends on journalists, brave Internet journalists who…wind up dead in Russia because of the power of “offline” still in human affairs.
    As for the children online in Africa, this sounds like a version of the “one laptop per child” sillyness and one bad argument per adult. We need to focus more holistically on whole families and towns in Africa where adults need real-life salaries for medical work and government administration to buy food and housing, before their children need to be getting laptops and playing online games. Why this obsessiveness with children who are cute and simple, and a failure to deal with the complexities of adults, who need laptops, too, and need a lot of other things?
    There’s a deep illusion that children’s computer use somehow magically leads to educated classes of people, when we have our own country already to show as a guinea pig — children’s scores go down the more time they spend playing online games and chatting on Facebook. This is something addicted online gamers like yourself have trouble admitting, of course.

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