In Africa, McKinsey has projected that if internet penetration would follow the pattern of the utilization of mobile phones on the continent, it would have vast positive impacts for the African economies.
Actually, such increased internet access could contribute with as much as 10 % of the continents whole GDP. Then, imagine how beneficial it would be for Africa if even further coverage was accomplished in the future. Several sub-Saharan countries have already demonstrated attempts to provide its inhabitants with free access to Wi-Fi, for example Kenya and Rwanda.
However, there is one star on the continent that outshines the others in this respect. This country is South Africa, where both public and private actors are engaged in bringing Wi-Fi access to the common person. South Africa already has established free Wi-Fi connection in more than 2,000 (!) spots across the country, a number that keeps on growing.
So what are some obvious benefits with free Wi-Fi? One might consider increased freedom for people in liberating ideas and creating start-ups, which of course is one side of the coin. However, there are much more basic applications which the industrialized world is taking for granted.
Imagine for instance the process of job application. How do you come to hear about job opportunities without internet access? Sure, some might say that you receive notifications through contacts, but the reality does not look like that for many people. You need to be able to upload or e-mail CVs and go job hunting in databases in order for an efficient labour market to take shape in today’s modern world.
As for education, internet access provides an array of opportunities. An educated workforce is paramount to the prosperity of nations and their companies. With free Wi-Fi you can study online, get information about the world, download books and cooperate with others. Even the education in the industrialized world converges towards e-learning, so imagine the opportunities for Africa in this aspect.
There is criticism of governmentally subsidized internet access though. The services need to be provided at a cost for the government, assumingly connected to the money of tax payers. If these costs do not hold up, a cancelation of such a programme would be devastating if that day should come. Some criticism has also been posed regarding governments impeding private companies in their efforts to provide internet for the masses. The cause is said to be that governments want to win elections based on their promises of providing internet to the people
It has been proven before that businesses can be built by targeting the bottom of the pyramid – the services just have to be cheap enough and cater to a large enough number of people. The question is who is up for the venture and maybe that is not a safe game to play as the rest of the world is rushing into the digital era.
Read more about the case of South Africa in this article from TheNextWeb