Africa’s Portal To The Internet

Can cell phones and other inexpensive wireless devices close the digital divide in the world’s poorest countries?At first glance, the idea that the Internet could have a major impact in the poorest parts of the developing world–Africa in particular–seems unlikely. Few people in those poor, rural areas have access to PCs or even electricity, for that matter. The Internet infrastructure is limited to major urban areas in most countries, and broadband services are scarce and quite expensive where they do exist.However, the picture is changing fast. The key is to look at the rollout of mobile telephone infrastructure, which is already widespread and growing rapidly in developing countries.”For the developing world, the Internet experience is going to be a wireless experience,” says Susan Schorr, the head of the International Telecommunication Union’s Regulatory and Market Environment Division. Sixty-one percent of the world’s 2.7 billion mobile phone users are in developing countries, compared with 10% of the world’s 1 billion Internet users, Schorr says.Online communities and markets are emerging in Africa, which accounts for more than half of the world’s poorest countries, with people using low-cost cell phones rather than PCs for connectivity. They’re providing vital data and information to community-based workers, connecting farmers with trading networks for their crops and commodities, and more broadly, providing access to political and social information that’s changing people’s lives.

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