it’s meaningful connectivity that transforms lives – World Wide Web Foundation

This post was written by Sonia Jorge, Executive Director, Alliance for Affordable Internet and was originally posted on Follow Sonia on Twitter @SoniaA4AI.

Christinah Ngoy is a facilitator at Timbuktu in the Valley, a skills development space for children living in some of the poorest neighborhoods in downtown Johannesburg.

When she joined the organization a few years ago, she supported children who came for after-school care, helping them with their homework and guiding them when they used the laptops donated to the center to access educational support and online entertainment.

But when the pandemic hit, his role changed.

Most children attending the center did not have access to online education when classrooms closed.

Christinah is a regular internet user herself – it was through internet research that she found out about the project and came to work here – and knew about the inequalities in internet access around her in South Africa. South. And while she was happy to offer the children at the center a chance to engage in the digital world, watching how they reacted to this transient access underscored that the digital divide isn’t just about being online or off. line.

“They’re curious, but they’re not as used to looking for things as other kids are. It takes them longer. They’re excited, but at some point they realize they can’t do this at home. It’s as if a door opened to all these opportunities and then closed.

We know that when the door to Internet access opens, lives are transformed.

But the Covid-19 pandemic has crystallized the fact that basic internet access is simply not enough. And the existing measure of internet access – online versus offline – vastly overestimates the number of people around the world who are significantly connected. While 2 in 3 people in the world are now considered to be online, billions lack the quality of access they need to fully engage in our digital world.

A binary way of thinking about internet access ignores the substantial inequalities between those who are online, as Christinah discovered at the center.

Instead, we need to think of connectivity as a ladder: basic access sits at the lowest level, capturing the experience of those who may visit a cybercafé once every three months, for example, or children who only have access to the Internet when they visit the centre.

As we climb the ladder, the quality of the connection improves, until we reach the experience of those who use fast fiber all day to live their lives.

The most powerful, and indeed most essential, features of the internet – streaming, video calling, education and health apps – are only available to those on the highest rungs of the ladder. For those with significant connectivity: regular access with fast speeds, enough data and appropriate devices.

Meaningful connectivity offers enormous benefits to those who have it, helping them reach new heights like educational and professional opportunities. But that remains beyond the reach of too many people.

In short, digital deprivation is much worse than previously thought.

A new study from the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) has revealed a huge gap between the number of people with insufficient basic access and those with the meaningful connection they need to make the most of internet. Internet.

Only around 1 in 10 people in the 9 low- and middle-income countries we studied have meaningful connectivity, compared to more than 4 in 10 with basic access.

It is important to remember that access is not an end in itself. It’s what people do with connectivity that matters. And our research shows how transformative a meaningful internet connection can be.

Users with significant connectivity were about a third more likely than users with basic access to perform essential online activities such as accessing healthcare, taking a course, looking for a job or participating in the digital economy. They were 12% more likely to have posted something on social media and 13% more likely to know the date of the next election.

Meaningful connectivity transforms information consumers into full participants in our digital world. It can make the difference between access to education, banking, healthcare, or none of them.

As more and more of our lives move online, it’s essential that everyone has the quality of access they need to meaningfully engage in our digital world. The pandemic has forced us to recognize once and for all that internet access is a basic right. As countries around the world begin to rebuild, it’s time to also recognize that quality of access matters. We cannot leave people at the bottom of the ladder, or even completely off the ladder.

Governments have an opportunity: they must raise the bar for internet access for all, or risk excluding billions of people from the digital revolution and worsening existing inequalities. Aiming for meaningful connectivity – bringing all citizens to the top of the ladder – means enabling more digital education and healthcare, fueling new businesses and growing economies.

For Christinah, this is as urgent an issue as any other challenge faced by the children in her care. And she saw glimpses of the potential that exists.

“Even in those short moments, I’ve seen kids become more confident, more independent. They’re full of ideas. They want to improve their lives, and through the internet they’re learning that there’s a world out there to explore and I just want the door to the world to stay open for them.

It’s time to open the door to meaningful connectivity – to opportunity – for everyone, everywhere.

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