The power of the Internet has redefined the global economy for the 21st Century. As of 2014, over three billion people around the world were connected. The corresponding boom in Internet-based retailers, news and information providers, and online entertainment and video companies has been just as impressive. Businesses go where the customers are, and increasingly the customers are online or mobile.
Unfortunately, the online revolution is lagging in many of the least developed parts of the world. Consider that as of 2014, fewer than 30 percent of Africa’s 1.1 billion population used the Internet. At the same time, relatively few African businesses have participated in the Internet business boom. Less than one percent of all existing domain name registrations in 2013 originated from Africa, meaning African-based businesses have very little local or global presence on the internet.
The problems are multiple. Building a broadband infrastructure to all homes, especially in rural areas, is too costly for many low-income countries. And mobile broadband service, while more broadly available, is also relatively expensive to provide and high-priced compared to incomes. As a result, broadband markets are limited in many poor and developing areas. In 2013, for example, there were 20 mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 people in the Philippines, and just three for every 100 people in Kenya.