How to increase internet access while promoting online freedom
The Internet is one of the more vital tools throughout the world, but one of the biggest challenges facing the global online community is providing access to many of the people who are still not online.
More and more people are using the Internet today, as online capabilities continue to expand and diversify. Social media has made the Internet more interactive, and increased connectivity around the world – a person in Canada can connect with someone in Australia at the click of a button.
Unfortunately, though the Internet is capable of promoting this kind of connectivity, it is not necessarily being realized. In many parts of the world, people still do not have access. From a purely philosophical standpoint, cyberspace is able to bring together communities from around the world, and allow them to interact in supremely productive ways. There are numerous open source projects that are allowing more and more people to come together and collaborate in a way that can truly contribute to a more progressive tomorrow.
The accessibility issue
Unfortunately, there are some hurdles in the way of fully realizing these connectivity advantages. The biggest is the fact that many people simply do not have access. In many rural areas and impoverished communities around the country, it can be difficult to afford going online along with getting access to infrastructure that makes this possible.
The proposal for what became the World Wide Web turned 25 recently, and its creator – Tim Berners-Lee – commented on the issues he sees facing the web for the future. The biggest challenge for him was improving Internet access around the world.
"How do we connect the nearly two-thirds of the planet who can't yet access the Web?" he asked in a blog piece on the World Wide Web turning 25.
This is a problem that is shared among some of the biggest names in the online world. Recently, Eric Schmidt, the Executive Chairman of Google, and Jared Cohen, who is the director of Google Ideas, discussed the issue at length in an op-ed piece for the New York Times.
Many of the people whole are expected to come online over the next decade, live in countries where the Internet is not only difficult to access at the moment, it is heavily monitored and censored. They noted that more than 5 billion people will come online during this time, but at a time when online freedom is in decline.
In Russia, for instance, the government will block tens of thousands of sites with content that is critical of the government. The Google executives also point to various instances in Pakistan and Vietnam where new laws are making it increasingly difficult to access sites like Wikipedia and YouTube.
Circumventing online controls
Many people throughout the world are working to make these tools more accessible that there are still challenges. For instance, Tor has been a popular tool for many online users over the last decade, according to Google, but many of them do not know how to use these tools.
This creates a challenge in the countries where users are expected to come online. They will soon be entering a cyberspace that is not free and open, but they also do not know to use the tools that can help them navigate around government blocks. While activists are likely well-versed in these tools, those who struggle to access the Internet in the first place will most likely not.
The key is being able to not only increase online connectivity, but also Internet literacy. By knowing how to access these tools and properly navigate them, more individuals can gain a better hold on the issues that are facing the world's online community.