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The Internet - still leaving some behind

Written by  Manogar D.L.
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Manogar D.L.Issue:Asia-Pacific III 2007
Article no.:9
Topic:The Internet - still leaving some behind
Author:Manogar D.L.
Title:Vice President
Organisation:Emerio Corporation
PDF size:248KB

About author

Mr Manogar D.L. is the Vice President of Emerio Corporation responsible for Global Accounts, Banking and Network Services. He has 16 years of experience in the IT industry, with diverse and in-depth exposure to various disciplines ranging from systems support, consulting, project management and senior management. Mr Manogar was a founding member of R&D Teamworks Pte Ltd Singapore, where he was responsible for the Systems Networking & Consulting Group and the Human Resource Department. Mr Manogar holds a Master’s of Business Administration degree from the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, and a Bachelor’s in Engineering from the University of Madras, Chennai, India.

 

Article abstract

Although in the more developed regions of the world the Internet has become part of the daily routine for much of the population, only one billion of the world’s 6.5 billion inhabitants have access. In many countries, including India and China, Internet usage is growing rapidly but overall penetration is still quite low. Lack of adequate access infrastructure, literacy rates and high costs all work to prevent the remaining 5.5 billion of the world’s people from using the Internet.

 

Full Article

In a very short time, the Internet has become deeply embedded in our lives. My PDA phone keeps me up-to-date with emails when I’m not in front of my computer, allowing me to clear my inbox and prioritize my day before I’ve even stepped into the office. Shopping online is a breeze, whether I’m buying a ticket for a movie or a flight. I planned my family’s entire holiday trip to Hong Kong in detail, beforehand, completely online. I planned and confirmed my last business visit to Manila, once again, over the Internet. When considering large purchases, I also use the vast power of the Internet to research my options before making a decision. I do most of my banking online as well. These days, the 2FA, two factor authentication, processes helps us transact online securely with more confidence. On the rare occasions where I do need to join the queue at the bank, I make good use of my PDA phone to make that time productive. Twenty years ago, the idea of paying bills electronically, or keeping in touch with relatives overseas without long-distance calling or postage stamps, was unthought of. Today, one-fifth of the world is online, sending a flurry of emails back and forth, doing all sorts of things from sealing business deals to buying groceries. You can now place an order for handmade Italian shoes through a website, while on holiday in Adelaide, and have the package waiting on your doorstep when you reach home. The Internet has, in many ways, changed how we live, play and do business. The Internet has shifted roles over the years. It has changed from a primarily academic resource into a public library of epic proportions and a provider of services. People no longer go online to just ‘surf’, they go online to run their lives. A testament to the power the Internet has had on our lives, the ‘window’ to the Internet, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was recently named the most influential tech product, beating the iPod and Microsoft Word. As to Web 2.0, engaging and communicating via interactive platforms is something we should all be moving towards. Blogs give us an insight into the lives of even ordinary people in the Ukraine, and provide platforms for politicians to interact with voters. Even governments have jumped on the Web 2.0 bandwagon. Expanded e-government services let one file taxes and apply for all sorts of permits online. A recent Accenture report identified Singapore as top in its provision of e-government services to its citizens. Governments like Singapore’s have found an increasing need to engage its citizens on a virtual platform. The Internet is an important tool for the government to collect feedback from its citizens as well. Seventy per cent of the businesses in Singapore use the Internet to obtain information from government organizations - a testament to the importance of a government’s online presence. Businesses also use the Internet to track the delivery of items, send contracts via email, create internal Web-based infrastructures to make employees more efficient, and enable branches all over the world to tap into the same database. In Singapore, a significant portion of small businesses and most medium enterprises have broadband access, while independent analyst findings predict broadband penetration will reach 75 per cent in less than three years. Asia alone has over 400 million Internet users, comprising more than 39 per cent of the world’s Internet users. While user penetration is only about 11 per cent, this number is set to rise as the Internet bulldozes its way through the region’s cities. Broadband access is also on the rise, with over 70 per cent of South Korea’s Internet users enjoying high-speed Internet access, the highest percentage in the world. Today, just over one billion people enjoy the advantages that the Internet brings, and the multitude of services it offers. There are approximately 6.5 billion people in the world, but what of the remaining 5.5 billion people? Internet penetration rates for countries such as Myanmar and Laos is under one per cent. Even India, one of the world’s IT hotbeds, has one of the lowest Internet penetration levels in the world, at only three per cent. In most of the countries where Internet penetration is low, getting connected to the Internet is an expensive exercise. An extreme example is Kazakhstan, where DSL access costs an absurd US$3,355 a month! In China, it costs around US$10.85 a month for broadband access. While this is even cheaper than some developed countries, this represents over seven per cent of China’s per capita GDP. Issues with infrastructure, education and high costs are all barriers preventing the other 5.5 billion people from getting onto the Internet. The more developed Asian countries such as Singapore, Japan and South Korea have pledged billions of dollars to improve their telecommunications infrastructure and increase the number of Internet users. This is not always possible for poorer developing nations. Despite the great opportunities for advancement provided by a World Wide Web, the Internet will not be a truly global platform until we address the barriers to Internet adoption. As technologies become cheaper and countries continue to build out their infrastructure, inroads are slowly being made. Two examples are those of Myanmar and Vietnam. In Myanmar, 25,000 ICT professionals have been graduating annually from the country’s two universities since 2004. Its Internet, however, remains tightly controlled by the government and most Internet users can only access the limited Myanmar Internet. Computer ownership remains extremely low, and will probably remain so until they receive aid from international organizations that give or sell low-cost refurbished computers to developing countries. Vietnam’s ICT sector is booming and, with Internet cafés springing up even in rural areas, more and more of the country’s population are plugging into the Internet. Vietnam is set to become a hotspot in ICT over the next few years. The government has begun to engage its citizens through the Internet, and provides distance-learning opportunities to over 18,000 students throughout the country. More than half of the country’s computers are assembled locally, which is a testament to the country’s burgeoning ICT sector. The government is fully behind the phenomenal growth of the sector, which should explode in the coming years. Countries such as Myanmar and Vietnam are growing at different rates, but they are growing nonetheless. Soon, more of these countries’ citizens will be able to access services online like their peers in neighbouring countries. There is much that their more affluent neighbours can do to help. Some companies refurbish old computers and sell them at discounted rates to developing countries. Since the average citizen is rarely able to afford a brand new computer, older ones give them the opportunity to own a computer or share it amongst several households. Internet cafés like those in Vietnam also bring Internet access to everyone for a relatively affordable rate, without the expense of buying a computer. Multinational corporations could also contribute by striking deals with the governments of these countries to develop their infrastructure. Privatising, or partially privatising, infrastructure, as in the cases of Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia, lets foreign multinational corporations invest in countries to develop communications and other infrastructure services. Larger countries such as China and India should focus efforts on decreasing the digital divide between rural areas and the cities. This will ensure that the government has a channel to reach out to its citizens, no matter how far away from the city they are. The good news is that the number of people in the Asia-Pacific region using the Internet is growing rapidly. The measures taken by the governments and various organizations such as The World Bank and the United Nations are working, albeit slowly. One day, we will be able to chat or conduct business over the Internet with our peers from Myanmar as easily as we would with someone in France. Only then will the Internet be a truly global platform.

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