In economics, globalization describes the seamless, international transfer of goods, services, technology and labor. It can be argued that the process of globalization has allowed developing countries to industrialize at a much faster pace. Advances in technology have become integral to global economic interconnectedness, with a majority of international commerce taking place through the Internet and other communication channels. Unfortunately, many developing countries still lack established Internet networks, and, as a result, do not benefit from globalization.

While the Internet helps make the economy more efficient due to increased interconnectivity, the gap between the top 1 percent and the rest of the world has still increased drastically. Developing countries’ insufficient access to the Internet has only furthered this inequality. In an effort to lessen the divide, Facebook (FB) founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched Internet.org to provide the entire world with affordable Internet access.

Internet and Inequality

Over the past decade, the Internet has transformed nearly all aspects of everyday life from business transactions to communication. The economic benefits are unprecedented, contributing significantly to gross domestic product, fueling the creation of new industries, and creating some of the world’s youngest billionaires. Yet while many users in developed countries consider Internet access a basic human right, global Internet access remains is non-existent in several developing nations. In 2013, 84 percent of Americans were connected to the Internet while only 12.3 percent of Ghanaians had access during the same period. A large majority of the unconnected population reside in developing countries including Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia.

Meanwhile, the wage gap between the top 1 percent and the rest of the world has widened at an unprecedented pace. Connecting the populations of developing countries to the basic Internet standards found in industrialized nations would have profound economic benefits. It’s estimated that long-run productivity could increase by as much as 25 percent and generate $2.2 trillion in additional GDP. There would also be profound health and educational benefits. However, bringing Internet access to developing countries has several barriers to entry including lack of digital literacy, incentives, income and infrastructure necessary to support networks.

Internet.org

Mark Zuckerberg launched Internet.org in 2013 to bring Internet access to the developing world.  Internet.org is a global partnership between Facebook and several telecommunication companies, including Samsung, Ericsson and Qualcomm (QCOM). The initiative has to overcome numerous barriers in order to be successful. For example, many civilians in developing countries can’t afford wireless devices or service plans. Furthermore, the infrastructure necessary for networks and power sources isn’t readily available.

Internet.org has launched as a free-to-use mobile app in a number of developing countries, enabling users to access free basic apps such as Facebook, AccuWeather, and Google Search. The app is currently available in India, Ghana, Colombia, Kenya, Tanzania, Indonesia and Zambia. Internet.org is playing an important role is removing geographic barriers through the expansion of Internet access, further increasing the positive returns of globalization. Workers are no longer discriminated by geographic location and can be compensated their self-worth in a global economy. Facebook and Google (GOOG)  are also benefiting from the launch of Internet.org as a better connected global population will lead to more users.

Connectivity Lab

In order to connect the world and develop a largely integrated global economy, Facebook and Internet.org must tackle the various network and infrastructure issues in developing countries. It’s estimated that 80 to 90 percent of the world population lives in areas covered by some type of cellular network. Cost remains the main obstacle for many individuals without basic Internet access. For the remaining 10 to 20 percent, economic restrictions also apply but the main issue is the lack of basic network infrastructure.

Facebook is developing new technologies to deliver infrastructure solutions. The company’s Connectivity Lab is using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to carry wireless signals to remote areas. There are a number of constraints associated with the use of Internet-carrying drones, including airspace regulations, low signal strength at certain altitudes and high costs. In addition to drones, the Connectivity Lab is developing other forms of area connectivity technology— satellites and radios. One major benefit to aerial connectivity is the relative ease of deployment compared to cellular towers.

The Bottom Line

Widespread access to the Internet has largely transformed business and communication channels in developed countries. As a result, many Internet-based companies have witnessed rapid financial growth. However, the many economic benefits associated with the Internet haven’t extended to developing countries. Wage inequality has grown at an unprecedented rate, and it’s estimated that the top 1 percent will control over 50 percent of global wealth by 2016. At the same time, individuals in developing countries are becoming relatively poorer with fewer means to escape poverty.  

With interconnectedness and globalization controlling the global economy, basic Internet access can benefit developing nations. According to estimates, increasing Internet connectivity in these locations to standards found in industrialized countries could generate up to 140 million jobs. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched the Internet.org initiative in an effort to provide basic Internet access in undeveloped countries. In order to combat infrastructure constraints, the social network company’s Connectivity Lab is exploring aerial connectivity with drones and satellites. Although still young, Internet.org has found success offering free mobile apps in African, Asian and Latin American countries.

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