Why connecting the billions of people who are offline requires more than just cables (or even drones)

There’s still a long way to go.
There’s still a long way to go.
Image: AP Photo/Ben Curtis
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Connecting everyone in the world to the internet requires more than just cables, lasers, and drones. Though infrastructure is important, it’s equally important to help the 4.2 billion people who are currently offline understand the web’s value—something that’s hard to do if there isn’t much in their native language.

It’s estimated that more than 7,000 languages are spoken in the world today. On the internet, though, the dominant language is English, followed by Russian, German, Japanese, Spanish, and French, in no particular order. As internet providers extend their networks into rural and remote areas, the people who are slowly coming online are likely to come from poorer backgrounds and speak non-English languages and dialects, according to a new report from the International Telecommunication Union and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The majority of the world still lacks internet access, but the digital divide is most apparent in the least developed countries (here is the UN’s list for 2014), where only 9.5% of the population has internet access, compared with 35.3% for developing countries and 82.2% for developed countries.

The internet holds promise for economic mobility, but women are less likely to reap those benefits, the report also finds.

Women in low- and middle-income countries are 21% less likely to own a mobile phone compared with men. In developing countries, close to 25% fewer women have internet connectivity—and that number rises to nearly 50% in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2013, there were 1.3 billion female internet users, 200 million fewer than men.

“These gaps limit the potential of [information technologies] for women and girls, and perpetuate inequalities between boys and girls, some of which start from a very young age,” according to the report.

Something to consider for tech companies like Google and Facebook, which aim to connect the rest of the world to the internet.