Mobile Data, a Great Equaliser?

Mobile Data, A Great Equalizer?

Chances are if you’re reading this you probably have a connection to the internet, and it’s probably not too bold a claim to say that you use the internet on a daily basis. It is this very constant usage of the internet that we start to take it for granted, and it slowly becomes impossible to imagine a life without it. But that life without the internet is very real to a large portion of the world today holding them back, economically, socially and even in accessing knowledge of the deen.

Fixed vs mobile broadband

Now getting regular broadband wires in the ground to each and every home is nearly impossible in the near future, too many homes and too many of them haphazardly built with no master plan to organize it all. From Dhaka to Dakar, slums are impossible to reach by direct internet cables, locking a huge portion of the Ummah and developing world out and leaving them behind. For this gap there is only one solution: mobile broadband (mobile data as you may know it). In 2017 only 1 in every 100 people in West Africa had a connection to fixed broadband while more than 20 out of a 100 had a connection to mobile data. This is not a simple 20 fold increase since the arrival of one mobile phone in a family allowed some access to the rest of the family as well. Slowly mobile data is leaping far ahead of fixed broadband in the Ummah even in the more developed states like the Gulf states, Turkey and Malaysia opening a way to a new future.

But why should we care? It seems distant and the effects aren’t visible even as millions more log into the internet. However we must take a deep look at how the internet shaped us, it may have given us passions, friends, faith and it even brought you here. This is the obligation we owe this new wave logging on to mobile data for the first time. A chance at many of the same gifts we got in an easy to attain format with a mobile phone. It is one of their main methods out of poverty in many of these regions, it gives education, knowledge and teaches languages and gives them a chance at competing in the modern world. Let’s look at two aspects of this new revolution: economics and then you and me.

The economics of mobile data

We can see in Nigeria the Muslim north has been left behind the South in wealth, education and many other factors. This gap only seemed to be widening over time but then mobile data arrived. Slowly the benefits started to show. Self employment started to grow as people started to get involved in the online marketplace. 3 years of access to mobile data made (with other factors accounted for) people 10-20% more likely to be self employed. They were almost 20% more likely to be pulled above the poverty line and household consumption was on average 15% larger. All these benefits were exponential, the first year had only minor benefits but it exploded in the second and third years. The key note was that the benefits were greatest in Northern Nigeria not despite it being worse off economically but because of it. The Internet and it’s resources gave them a chance to get an education, to get training and even new inspiration which did not exist there before. Mobile data has shown and will continue to show itself as a means to escape poverty and even the playing fields for the less well off areas of the world.

But how does it compare to fixed broadband and is it better to try and force through fixed broadband? It seems logical that a fixed connection could give a faster connection, wifi access to more devices and be better overall. While these may be true we have to look at how these networks are built. We’ve seen in developed nations the implementation of fixed broadband has only worked with a large centralised body(either the government in cases like New Zealand or megacorporations in countries like Japan) who has the funds and the power to push such an arduous process through. The costs of the the basic cables and infrastructure alone is daunting and when the issue of dealing with illegal encroachment and the lack of a master plan of most cities in the Muslim world causes the costs to rise even higher. So even if somehow these fixed broadband connections were laid down quickly in the near future very few people could actually afford them and even if they do they could only afford small plans holding them back from doing business or attaining education online. In Pakistan even the most basic fixed broadband packages cost 1500 PKR(9 USD) monthly equivalent to 2 days wages for an average person. Mobile data, cheaper to set up and with more competition, starts giving out 10GB packages at only 300 PKR(2 USD) monthly making it available to vastly more people. We’ve already seen how speed matters as the economic growth after receiving internet connection is exponential and so getting mobile data out first might not make the best wifi network but definitely help close the gap between the developing and developed world before it gets even wider. Fixed broadband can only follow and then propell the economic rise of the developing world, mobile data can help cause it.

What about you and I?

It is here we turn to using our own skills and passions. We need to start throwing out content on whatever we wish. A YouTube video about your love of trains, a blog about your fascination with TV dramas no matter what it is you can start whenever. Your chances of making it big are low, absolutely, but there’s still a chance and we should grasp it so that the new generation logging in online won’t be stuck relying on media solely from the rebooted world to succeed and grow but rather build a stronger bond with the Ummah even in the secular sciences. A clearer look at what you might be able to do is available on this article: A lack of volunteerism is harming the Muslim world

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