Ana Maria Rodriguez, a research analyst with the advocacy group the Alliance for Affordable Internet, said that official figures of online users might drastically underestimate how many people don’t have regular access to the internet, can’t afford to go online often, have poor service or some combination thereof.
She said that the World Bank and UN counted an internet user as anyone who had gone online at least eleven in the past three months. By their figures, two-thirds of people in Colombia were online as of 2019. But research from the Alliance for Affordable Internet found that only one-quarter of Colombians had “meaningful” access, which included consistent online connections at relatively quick speeds.
Microsoft, Facebook, Google and other tech companies and executives have various projects to help expand internet access or tailor their apps for countries where millions of people may be going online for the first time. Rodriguez, whose group receives funding from tech companies, said that doing even more could help billions of people — and corporations’ bottom lines.
“It’s in their interest to reach these people,” Rodriguez told me, referring to the global internet companies.
When I first started to write about technology more than a decade ago, I would regularly ask executives if there was a limit to their growth because so many people weren’t online, and service stank for many people, even in rich countries like the US I got a lot of blank stars.
Maybe they were right not to make the issue a high priority. Many more people have been connected in those years, and internet service has improved in most countries. Facebook and Spotify are not experts in building mobile internet towers or tearing down social and financial obstacles to getting more people online.
But we’re entering a period in which the easy growth is gone for many successful internet companies. To keep reaching more people, they may need to think differently about the billions who have yet to be connected.