Widening the World Wide Web

Widening the World Wide Web

By H. Lawlor

SourceSven Torfinn/Panos


Some of the lowest rates of Internet usage are in Sub-Saharan Africa. That’s about to change.

By H. Lawlor

The internet has made the world smaller, but the benefits aren’t evenly spread, and some have been left on the wrong side of the ”digital divide.” Sub-Saharan Africa is home to some of the globe’s lowest rates of Internet usage, but also the highest rates of growth, fueled in part by the mobile phone revolution that is still rolling onwards.

Internet use in Sub-Saharan Africa

475 million

number of mobile Internet connections in sub-Saharan Africa

12.3 million

number of fixed line Internet connections in sub-Saharan Africa


rate of growth in internet usage in Africa from 2000 to 2012


broadband users in sub-Saharan Africa as of 2012


individuals connected to the Internet in Eritrea


individuals connected to the Internet in Burundi


of the world connected to the internet by 2020, predicts Google CEO Eric Schmidt

Titans of the Internet age are now looking for ways to blend profit and philanthropy to bring more of Africa online. Facebook is leading concerted efforts to streamline access to basic services (including, of course, Facebook) on basic mobile phones. Creating more efficient apps and improved networks means better data transfer and less battery drain.

Google is working on a not-so-loony venture, Project Loon, which would beam down the Web from balloons floating in the stratosphere. Using blimp-tracking antennas, the technology strives to bring better connectivity to rural and remote areas and get people back online after disasters. 

Increased connectivity can’t solve every problem (“When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no website that relieves that,” says Bill Gates), but access to information benefits society in new ways every day. With the World Bank now forecasting six percent economic growth for the region, a well-connected Sub-Saharan Africa will be a stronger one.Governments are also getting involved. Last month Rwanda began creating wireless hotspots throughout the capital of Kigali, the first step in the country’s plan to establish itself as a regional tech hub; starting out with free citywide WiFi, the goal is to eventually roll it out nationwide.