Where is Mr Burden?

So there is this article in the Guardian, where the title is the call to action (at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/may/17/connecting-everyone-to-internet-global-economy-poverty), the headline gives us “Connecting everyone to internet ‘would add $6.7tn to global economy’”, this is a statement that might hold water, you see those people might need hardware (a router at the very least), there are optional needs for hardware and getting the data streamed for all these surfers required many coins too, so I would state that there is a truth in that.

What becomes an issue is “Report estimates getting whole world online would lift 500m people out of poverty over next five years“, this woke me up, because raising people out of poverty is a good thing. Yet in all this, how are these people getting paid? So that is where the alarm bells start ringing. The quote “The report, titled Connecting the world: Ten mechanisms for global inclusion, was prepared for Facebook by PwC’s strategy consultants Strategy&“, which is an issue, especially when PwC is part of that equation, something from Tesco anyone?

More than nine-tenths of the world’s population live in places where the infrastructure exists to get them online, but the majority of them cannot afford to do so” is the quote that follows and as such, I can agree with that, although there are plenty of places like all over India where connectivity is an issue, beside the affordability issue. Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Siberia that list is renowned and not that short. So what gives?

Here the article suddenly becomes a little murky. You see, Facebook is favouring its approach “the Internet.org project, which aims to partner with carriers in developing nations to give low-cost internet access“, which has some critique. The additional quote “Jonathan Tate, technology consulting leader at PwC, argues that Facebook’s approach is worth it in the long term. While zero rating provides access to a slimmer version the internet than the full web, he says it’s a crucial stepping stone to full access. “The important thing here is to get things moving,” he added“, I think that this might sound real, but it does not sound true. The following quote “Facebook’s motivation for paying for Internet.org is partially explained by PwC’s estimates of where the benefits of new access accrue. While most of the economic benefits of new internet access come to those freshly online, the consultancy estimates that content providers such as Facebook stand to gain a $200bn opportunity over the next five years” has the issues within the text especially between the words. You see, I personally believe that this is not about connecting, it is about connectivity, more important, the fact on how these groups could soon be identified. Those who have and those who have not. This is where the issue forms.

Those not online will not lost their poverty status other that administrative. I feel that this is about classification, this is about finding out where the non-connected live. Once the non-connected are properly categorised, it will be much easier to dismiss certain groups. We are already seeing it in our daily lives all over the place. You are either a benefit or you are a burden. That was a reality and a valid form of identification years ago, but as the internet is mapped, we see the everlasting need for growing data. Data can be sold, that is why there is such a need to get everyone connected. That data is worth a lot to places like Facebook. The initial claim still remains ‘raising 500 million people out of poverty‘ How, is my question and the important fact that Alex Hern might rely on is not explained at all.

As I see it, the possible addition of $6.7T is all about data selling and marketing, so far, not too much visibility on poverty and how to stop that, or better stated, how this implementation will get the really poor their impact. So how about that poverty?

It’s all over the world, so how will a solution be found for those not being able to connect to a Sweet Home internet spot. It seems to me that many players are all about data selling to make their numbers, which is a dangerous approach, especially for those getting exploited, because after 6 months, they might suddenly no longer be interesting to have online, what happens then? That is the part that requires special attention, especially as I believe that internet providers have largely gone into the mode ‘Are you a Benefit or a Burden?‘ We better pace to not be a burden, because this world is less and less appealing, mainly because governments couldn’t keep their budgets in check and others ended up paying for the initial claims made by those no longer here.

That makes 100% internet coverage an additional issue in regards of this case, as it is an illusionary number, 100% coverage can in these kind of cases never be maintained, even if it is technologically possible, in the end there are other costs involved, also on the user end, which gets me to the users!

You see, for most the equation is slightly too simple. You are either a user, or you are getting used. This applies especially to big business, giving weight to the Benefit/Burden part. Consumers are for the most a benefit, yet in all this, what kind of consumers? Consumers of banks and financial institutions? Consumer of marketable goods? There are so many options here, but for a large part, the one group that (still) falls outside of the scope is the poverty group.

You see Alex, in your column, in the paragraph on how expensive the internet is for some, the quote “For 66% of the world, a 500MB data plan costs more than 5% of their monthly income, the level the report’s authors describe as “unaffordable”“, yet for many, the 5% is usually connected to other things too and in many places 5% of a minimum income gets you plenty of gigabytes. I checked in the Netherlands (not cheap but affordable), Sweden (5 GB affordable for about $15), Germany, UK (unlimited for a mere $8), Australia (where I can get near 1TB on a minimum wage), the benefits of a few languages gets you a lot of information. Basically the previous statement is blown out of the water, or perhaps, these countries are within the 34%?

This article reeks as I see it, you see, when you are in poverty other things matter, the internet will not get those people out of poverty, plain and simple. I would really like to dig into that report. I wonder how it holds up to my scrutiny. The simplest of reasons is that if it was a solution, the US would have done it to get there massive poverty line down, Europe would have seriously done something some time ago. No, I regard this as some PwC approach to more exploitation. The fact that this gets the limelight and the connected acts by PwC regarded Tesco are kept silent by the press at large is still a massive issue and the Guardian is equally guilty in that regard.

The basic statement “Improvement of existing technology, or even simply installing existing technology in developing nations, will suffice to bring about much of this cost reduction” is added fuel to the fire. You see, that is a truth, but who has the cash to invest in that? You see, that still requires a device for people to connect to that infrastructure. The final statement takes the cake “But new technology will still be needed to achieve total connectivity. The reports’ authors estimate that the last 500 million people to get online won’t be able to rely on piecemeal improvements“, we can argue the validity here, but are those the same people who will be lifted out of poverty?

You see, this article shakes on all sides, I wonder whether this was about 500 million out of poverty (which I doubt would ever happen), or was this a simple deluded piece regarding connectivity? Well, to give Alex Hern a fair shake, we need to take a look at that report. Look, here it is: http://www.strategyand.pwc.com/global/home/press/displays/global-internet-inclusion.

So, it is not initially about connectivity is it?

So let’s take a look at some of these parts

In the first:

Bringing the whole world online would create huge benefits for developing countries and for businesses over the coming five years, including:

  • Social and economic improvement for over 4 billion people
  • An additional global economic output of US$6.7 trillion
  • A $400 billion growth opportunity for telecom operators
  • A $200 billion opportunity for content providers

 

  1. An additional global economic output of US$6.7 trillion (based on what is that)
    2. A $400 billion growth opportunity for telecom operators
    0. A $200 billion opportunity for content providers

Why this numbering? Yes, the claim of that multi trillion dollar output sounds nice, but how is that acquired? PwC has had its issues with forecasting, yet in all this how could this be true. Well, it can be, you see most of us (including me) would think that this was about developing the option to exploit those in developing countries. I state here and now that this is unlikely to add to such an amount. The second part is the 400 billion for telecom operators. Yes, that part might be true, yet in all that, who pays for this? You see a telecom operator is very willing to invest 400 billion, providing they get 600 billion out of all of this. So who pays for that part? Even more important is the issue that was initially reported. How does that push people OUT of poverty? And now we get to point zero, the content providers, remember what I wrote? Here we see the classification, it becomes about the issue of dividing the population into Benefits and Burdens. So why is that important?

Look at the next part:

Replacing current 2G networks with 3G or 4GLTE could bring a 60-70% reduction in the cost per MB to serve developing markets, making it profitable for operators to provide internet services, and opening up the internet to over 2bn people. Who pays for that hardware? What are the costs of those transmitters and upgrade those local providers? In all that, the people involved, the consumers become benefit for those who can afford it, a burden if they cannot. There is another view (at http://qz.com/684388/broadband-service-tends-to-stop-at-the-poverty-line-in-the-us/), there are a few sides that sound good and believable. The one part that is in common with the view PwC shows us is “provide affordable communications to low-income households“, yet here we see two other parts:

  1. High-bandwidth applications overwhelm mobile data plans and slow connections. This limits or even cuts off many families from e-commerce, banking, health care, and services.
  2. Broadband for rural residents, it’s a real lifeline. In fact, that’s the name of the federal program designed to provide affordable communications to low-income households.

The second part might seem correct and positive, but behind this is another form of reasoning. You see, Telecom providers require income, for that they provide bandwidth. What is a clear need for most parties is the collection of data, classification as well as profit. The data must grow! (That is my personal view) The government will need in addition a more complete shift towards the digital field, not just in America, this is a near global need. Only when the shift to digital is complete the last pesky barricade will fall away. A real first move to a total digital world. In all this there is still no real evidence that poverty will fall away. Here is the first part where PwC and Alex Hern have different settings. PwC stated in the paper “above absolute poverty levels“, One definition is ‘the minimal requirements necessary to afford minimal standards of food, clothing, health care and shelter‘, another version gives us ‘absolute poverty is used as a synonym for extreme poverty, meaning the lack of enough resources to have stable basic life necessities‘, this makes the entire exercise another matter entirely.

Providing content through a series of local high speed networks, would make it affordable for a further 300m people. What kind of content? Subscribable content? At what cost? And how does access to digital content reduce its cost? How does this provision make someone less pover? Well we can speculate that making a person dependant on digital access and then making it available to all, that person is less pover. So basically, we give a few person one extra service, a basic necessity. Now, they no longer have 1 out of 6 basic needs, now they suddenly have 2 out of 7 basic needs. So their index went from 16% (absolute poverty) to 28.5% (poor), a mere implementation of ‘How to lie with statistics’. For the people they are still in deep poverty in real life, but according to the statistics not that much.

Offline distribution of content, including through national and regional data exchanges would improve access and affordability for a further 170m people”. Here the issue is ‘data exchanges’, the exchange of data happens in our daily life, but is this that same level, or is this a conglomerate push to have access to personal data? This is speculation, but let’s face it, nothing is free, that is a given. So what levels of data exchange is linked to all this?

Governments offering content focused on education, social services or business opportunities could create an incentive for a further 200m to go online”. This is clean cut, this is what governments would love, but in all this (especially in the USA), we see a rural absence of connectivity, a lack of services provided for, which means local government presence, which costs money. In this day of cut backs (near global) getting connected means that help goes through wiki pages, through online forms and through automated parsing of forms. This has massive drawbacks on many levels, but that is not what this article is about.

Brand or subscriber subsidized access, for example learning centers, could bring another 500 million online globally”. This reads in more than one way, it could be seen a subscribed subsidised brand access, which could go in many ways, not all of them in a positive way. Yet, let’s not focus on such sides or on ‘wording’ to that extent at least for now.

Another quote can be seen in two ways, as I saw it Alex took it one way. The quote “This leaves 4.1 billion people disconnected from a modern economy that would benefit by over US$6 trillion with their participation“, can also be seen as ‘the modern economy would benefit by connecting the 4.1 billion disconnected people. It could enable a maximum of 6 trillion in amassable revenue for those connected‘ Again, partially speculative, but does that not read a lot more reliable than the ‘social’ approach the Guardian took?

Let’s not forget, PwC is all about the numbers and the profit (sometimes overstated), the full report (at http://www.strategyand.pwc.com/reports/connecting-the-world) gives me the last part: “The third is to create more national and international data infrastructure, such as Internet exchange points (IxPs) and data centers“, here we have it, data centres, the one part Alex Hern did not illuminate, as the tech writer he should be all over that, not just because of its need, but because many developing countries lack proper skills, knowledge and lack infrastructure to get it correctly up and running and keep it online. Apart from the massive need for security in such centres, that data could become too widely available too fast, or proper companies will have to step in, at what cost?

So we might accept the title “Connecting everyone to internet ‘would add $6.7tn to global economy’“, yet who will benefit? The developing countries? Me thinks not, it’s a mere continuing imbalance of Benefit and Burden.

 

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