No Electricity Means No Internet: It’s Time to Bridge the Gap!
September 2, 2014 Editor 0
“I came to Uganda to run the technical side of a mobile phone company. Instead, I was running the largest diesel fuel distribution company in the country—in order to run the mobile phone company,” says Francis Kazinduki, former CTO of MTN in Uganda. And he is not alone.
This quote, taken from Dr. Laura Hosman and Dr. Laura Elizabeth Armey’s study on “The Centrality of Electricity for Internet Uptake in Low-Income Countries”, is a common sentiment among ICT professionals working in low-income countries. In their innovative study, Hosman and Armey analyze Internet usage growth in diverse locations from Mali to Haiti, and Sierra Leone to the Solomon Islands. What, they ask, is a key factor influencing ICT adoption across all of these low-income countries?
Their answer: Access to electricity.
Increased distribution of electricity across a nation is a key vanguard to ICT development success. Using dynamic panel data analysis, the two researchers based their findings on a unique data set taken from satellite images that capture the quantity and distribution of light that can be observed at night from outer space. This data set mediates variables such as defining what constitutes access to electricity and protects the study from faulty self-reported national electricity and energy data. While other researchers have used similar data sets for other purposes, this study is the first of its kind to use night-lights to measure real electricity use.
Hosman and Armey recommend pursuing policies that expand the distribution of electricity to greater numbers of people, not just increasing the total electrical output in each country, which tends to prioritize cities. The more people that have access to electricity, the greater demand will be for using the Internet and other related technologies. It is fruitless, they say, to discuss a digital divide where electricity does not exist. Many ICT projects have collapsed because they don’t fully realize the existing (or absent) electrical infrastructure within a country. Addressing the electricity divide between high-income and low-income countries will not only spur industrial and knowledge-based economic growth, but will enable millions around the world to connect online.
The key lesson to be learned? ICT development initiatives must first consider a location’s existing electrical infrastructure before setting up shop. The idea seems simple – it is just often overlooked.
The infographic below is based off the study and was created by Bruce Baikie, Inveneo’s Executive Director. You can follow him on Twitter for more ICT updates at @BruceICT4D.
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