Midsized companies hoping to expand into burgeoning international markets can face a major hurdle: the inability of many regions to easily or inexpensively connect to the Internet, based on the Net's domination by a handful of countries.
It is discouraging to discover that only a few countries and regions continue to control most of the world's Internet connectivity, a structure that will allow inequalities in socioeconomic conditions to persist, and prevent companies from reaping new opportunities in burgeoning markets. That's the result of analysis of a decade of Internet studies, conducted by Hyunjin Seo, assistant professor of strategic communications at the University of Kansas, and Stuart Thorson of Syracuse University.
The two analyzed TeleGeography's annual survey of Internet traffic and capacity by country, region, and continent over the years 2002 to 2011. Their research found that people in some areas are much less able to connect to the Internet, and that entire regions and continents are "at a severe disadvantage in many sociopolitical aspects."
As Seo told me in an interview: "I can't say I'm surprised, but I found it fascinating. A few countries, regions, or continents have a large proportion of international bandwidth, and most countries, regions, or continents have relatively little. We just didn't look at one country. We didn't just look at one year."
Not surprisingly, the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and other Western European nations have the greatest control over the Internet. China has shown some relative growth over the past decade; likewise, some countries in Asia and the Middle East have made gains, Seo said. However, she noted that many regions have made little penetration. This could have a huge impact, not only on residents but also on future investments in these nations and continents:
The level of Internet connectivity and the pattern of Internet connections have implications for business and diplomacy and trade and so on. I think our analysis shows inequalities in the global Internet connections have been persistent with considerable historisticity.
Bridging the digital divide
Some nations, such as South Korea, rely extensively on government funding to spur Internet development, said Seo, who worked in that country as a journalist for a while. In other countries, such as some African nations, government is the roadblock to Internet implementation, preferring to keep citizens disconnected and uninformed.
For the cases where government is not willing or unable, the international community will -- I hope -- provide them some support and infrastructure. Collaboration between government and the private sector is important, also between business and some non-profit organizations. They can pair with other organizations doing something in the area of resolving the digital divide. Otherwise the gap will just continue to grow, continue to widen.
Of course, a midsized retailer, publisher, or accounting firm can't resolve a nation's Internet access issues by itself. By working with other midsized or enterprise companies, as well as local governments and access providers, though, all stakeholders can rally around a common cause to try and deliver this invaluable resource to more of a region's residents, according to Seo.
The working middle class now represents more than 40 percent of the developing world's workforce, according to the International Labour Organization's "Global Employment Trends 2013" report. Like their peers in developed countries, this group of people wants to buy goods and services previously unavailable to their parents, making them attractive to midmarket and enterprise sellers of an array of offerings available through physical and online stores. Without a viable Internet infrastructure, however, e-tailers cannot reach this growing market of potential shoppers and investors, creating a frustration for many local and international vendors.
Those midsized companies weighing international opportunities can do their own analyses, too. Seo used open source-based R Package, iGraph, and Network Analysis and Computational Models, along with bandwidth metrics and centrality indicators.
One thing that doesn't need any number crunching or analytics: We must do a better job, worldwide, of providing unimpeded access to the Internet, no matter where people live and work.
— Alison Diana , ThinkerNet Editor, Internet Evolution