Between the years 2000 and 2008, the number of Internet users in Africa grew an estimated 1031%. Nevertheless, it still reached into the household of less than 5% of the African population. This pales when compared to the estimated 73% of the North American population that depend on the internet to feed their information addiction on a daily basis.
One of the major issues that prevents a widespread adoption of the Internet throughout Africa is the extremely high percentage of the population that lives in rural areas. In the United States, where nearly 80% of the population has Internet connectivity, over 80% of the population lives in an urban area where internet infrastructure is more developed. In Africa, only about 28% of the population lives in an urban area. This leads to significantly higher costs for the appropriate infrastructure on a per user basis. As many African nations also suffer from significant levels of poverty, the money that is necessary to build the infrastructure may be better spent in providing for the people.
However, the Internet may be the lifeline needed to help provide education to their people, and help lift the countries out of the morass of poverty. To get widespread internet access throughout Africa will be a major challenge. However, the utilization of the appropriate technologies can answer these challenges, and provide the "onramp" to the information superhighway by access to even the most remote locations in Africa.
Imagine the challenges faced by trying to run a computer in a place where there is no electricity.
Think about having an internet kiosk in the Serengeti region of Africa. The kiosk connects to the internet via a satellite dish powered by a battery charged by solar power. More batteries, also charged via solar power, attach to the kiosk to power the computer itself and provide full access to the internet. The computer is of a special design, utilizing low-power consumption components with a touch screen monitor. The equipment is "hardened" to resist the environment to prevent build up of dust/dirt inside while also providing basic protection from water damage. An additional low powered projector system allows an audience to see the display. This allows an audience such as a school class to "attend" an online educational program without ever stepping foot into a schoolhouse.
These systems are a reality and some have already been installed at locations throughout Africa. This type of Internet connection is not cheap, but is a way in which the power of the internet can be delivered to people in areas that lack any infrastructure. Areas inhabited by people who may have never before seen a computer. In many cases, the people receiving this type of kiosk may not yet have access to either electrical power or running water. Yet this single computer connected to the Internet brings with it a source of knowledge that may help people overcome their lack of basic resources.
Another possible solution for small villages that do have electrical power is the provision of an actual classroom with computers. An internet connection is established as with the kiosk, but in this situation, the battery is to power both a satellite modem and a wireless routing device as well. In one simple step, an entire village has been enabled for internet access. The provision of laptops discarded or donated by people in other countries can enable entire families to learn what they have been missing.
Enabling the peoples of Africa to access the global internet is a challenge that needs to be addressed. Possibly, by addressing this one issue, we can initiate a revolution in the rural areas of Africa. Better education brings about better ways of living that in turn bring about prosperity. If we truly want to reduce the level of poverty throughout Africa, we must work on educating the youth of Africa. They will then guide the continent into the era of modern man.