Why Are 4B People in the World Still Unconnected?
It may surprise you to know that approximately 4B people do not have internet access, smartphones or data connectivity. And nearly 2B don't have a smartphone that can browse the Web. The United Nations, as well as the World Bank and other multinational governing bodies, has said that this large-scale disconnectedness contributes to the vast economic inequality experienced across the developing world. But why, in an era where more people have internet access than running water, is this the case?
Although the issue is extremely complex, we at Text Engine have uncovered at least part of the problem. As we work hard to bring Text Engine into emerging markets like Nigeria, the Philippines, Pakistan and Mexico, we bump up against a similar challenge over and over. It is probably best illustrated by reference to a comment from a telecom provider we recently received via email:
"People without smartphones don't get search instinctively, and there would be too much education involved," said a telecom executive in Papua, New Guinea.
The comment was made in response to a proposal from one of our colleagues in Papua, New Guinea. The colleague wanted to license our code to build a local version of Text Engine for the citizens of New Guinea. However, our friend met resistance from the telco, and the above response was what they told him.
Aside from being false, the statement borders on classism. It's astonishing to us that a telecom company feels this way about the customers that it serves! People with dumb phones "don't get search instinctively?" Really!? What I wanted to ask this exec is: How do you know? Have you've done research to prove this? If I were a dumb phone customer of this company; and, I heard an executive say something like this -- I would be offended... And then I would take my business elsewhere, if I could.
Quite the contrary, what our research states is that people without smartphones understand search just as well anyone else. We have thousands of users, all over the globe, who use Text Engine daily with good result. Our users utilize Text Engine to get weather, look up business listings, read Wikipedia articles, and even get driving drivings.
More often than not, telecom companies have rejected our proposals to connect their customers to our technology. They aren't interested in licensing our code or selling VAS phone numbers. They don't seem to want to support entrepreneurs in local regions who are building telecommunications applications. In our experience, the telcos are monopolistic, unsupportive and extraordinarily risk-averse.
If you want to know one reason why 4B are still unconnected, all you have to do is look to the telecom companies and the old world attitudes that predominate.
Eric Bryant, Founder