‘Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa with over 90 million people. Ninety percent of Ethiopians have no broadband internet access. The case of Ethiopia is repeated in the 45 least developed countries in the world. Ninety percent of people live without affordable broadband internet access. Ninety percent!’

In the fourth episode of the Our Space video series, Nnenna Nwakanma, Africa Regional Coordinator of the World Wide Web Foundation, uses statistics to maximum effect to show that a large part of the world continues to be excluded from digital growth opportunities: ‘When we talk about digital divide, it is the haves and the haves not of digital opportunities, of connectivity, access.’

‘What the birth and growth of the internet has actually done, in one way, is to widen social divides that were already there: divides between men and women, divides between older and younger generations, divides between rural and urban dwellers, divides between those who are financially well off and those who are not. All these divides still exist and they’re now being imported into the digital world.’

The same people that are at a disadvantage offline continue to be at a disadvantage in the digital age: ‘Those who have had access to education, to development, are the same ones who have access to connectivity. Those who’ve not had access to education, to development, to social amenities, are still the same ones not having access to broadband.’

Anja Kovacs, project director of the Internet Democracy Project, warns of zero-rating services as a panacea for regions that are unserved or underserved by the internet: ‘Some people would like us to believe that all these zero-rating applications – where you get access to Facebook very cheaply for example – are the future, and that this is really going to make a difference. But I think if we go down that route, if this is where we put our future, we will create two classes of citizens on the internet. You have the people who access the whole of the internet and you have the people who access those gated communities.’

‘Then basically we’re saying that for poor people this is good enough? I don’t think so.’

Nnenna Nwakanma: ‘I actually thought we had the Web We Wanted. The way the web started, it started free, free architecture, freedom to engage, freedom to be part of it. Nobody ever needed to write a letter to belong to the web. So all web citizens, we are born free. Problems started when we had interests, financial interests, taking away that liberty, saying that we want to cut off some part of the web and keep it to ourselves. We are not freedom fighters of the web. We are web citizens who are fighting to retain the essence of what the web is.’

‘Give anyone connectivity, you’re empowering them for innovation. Give them connectivity, you’re empowering them for better education. Give them connectivity, you’re empowering them for gender equality. Give them connectivity, you’re empowering them for social and cultural development.’

‘If you want to give me internet, bring it on.’

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