The internet is getting faster for a select global few, leaving developing nations at an extreme disadvantage.
As global broadband speeds increase, some nations are getting left behind. In the past year, global speeds have risen on average by 23 percent. But, like most ultra valuable tech-commodities this “wealth” isn’t being shared equally, a broadband equality gap is upon us.
Based on data from M-Lab, a partnership between Google Open Source Research, Princeton University and others, broadband comparison site Cable crunched the numbers to reveal that the internet speed of the top 25 countries is increasing by 28 percent year after year. For the bottom 25 countries, that number drops to measly seven. Yemen (ranked bottom for speed) is more than 162 times slower than the fastest country Singapore. To give you an understanding of what that means in practice, downloading an HD movie in Yemen would take 2 days, whereas in Singapore it’s just 18 minutes and 34 seconds. The US sits comfortably at number 21 but still managed to slip behind Macau in China and the former Baltic state of Latvia for speed. “A closer look reveals the acceleration is concentrated towards the top end: The faster countries are improving more quickly, with those towards the bottom end of the table verging on stagnation,” said broadband analyst Dan Howdle.
It comes off the back of a UN report last year that warned the world’s ability to get online was dissolving into a two-tier system—the haves and the have nots—with 52 percent of the global population living without any access internet connectivity. And in less developed parts of the world, open access to real time information could solve a plethora of problems.
Broadband isn’t just about the physical technology. Pulling the strings behind the internet’s infrastructure is a market just like any other. In some countries, it’s open, regulated and bolstered. In others, it’s monopolized, restrictive and barely fit for use.
The report on internet speeds only focused on broadband speeds, so it doesn’t consider 4G. But mobile band waves are only useful as whatever you use to connect to them. When Buzzfeed’s Pranav Dixit tried to install a handful of apps on India’s best selling Bharat 2, he quickly lost patience. Its popularity seems marked by being the cheapest model on the market, despite installing the lite versions of popular apps, Dixit said “scrolling through my Twitter timeline was a stuttering, jerky mess” and the only things it quickly became good for was “making calls and texts and watching some occasional video.”
Just like most things, the global picture is a story of redistribution gone wrong. While we buy cheap tech from overseas, the people who make it are left stranded in a mire of glitchy, buggy and barely functional lifelines.