More People Have Cell Phones Than Clean Water

cell-phonesHumanity is on the precipice of one of the most significant changes in our evolutionary history. For the first time ever, more than 95% of the worlds population has a cellphone and more than 40% of households have access to the internet. More people have access to a cell-phone than have access to running water, indoor plumbing, or consistent electricity.

While that might seem a simple thing, a cellphone and access to the internet, these two technologies are the most disruptive and empowering technologies since indoor plumbing and refrigerators. Think about just how much the Western world has changed since cellphones and the internet went mainstream. New words, communities, jobs, and services have made their way into mainstream society.

The same is true in the developing world, new jobs are being created in the very communities that need them.The desire for western electronics and access to the internet has already ready spurred market innovation. In rural India charging Kiosks have sprung up in response to the demand for electricity for charging electronic devices, and for 15 Rupees, about 10 cents, an individual can get their device recharged.

In fact, according to the OECD 20% of the world’s population still lacks basic access to electricity, and yet many of these people have access to a cell-phone. The local desire and need for mobile technology is creating the demand that will drive development.

So while American’s might complain about multi-hundred dollar phone bills, billions of people are connecting, for the first time, to the global telecommunications network. People who never had running water, never had consistent electricity,don’t know how to read, and have never had a landline, are suddenly plugging into the 21st century.

Whole continents are leapfrogging legacy landlines and bypassing desktop computers in favor of mobile devices that enable them to start small businesses and create cooperative exchanges for trading their goods and services.

In fact, throughout the developing world, mobile broadband is cheaper than fixed broadband, despite prices dropping 82% over the last decade. So while their per bit prices are still higher than the prices paid by their Western counterparts, their societies are saving billions by not investing in legacy technology.

It is important to remember that for these people cellphones are more than just a way to twiddle away with their thumbs. The adoption of cellphones represents an existential change to the way they live their lives. Farmers, crafters, and artisans, many of whom are women supporting extended families, who have never traveled more than a few kilometers outside of their villages are suddenly networking with other small groups to exchanges goods, services, and information about potential threats from warlords and opportunities in regional and global markets.

By William Tatum

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