Google recently announced plans to bring free high speed Wi-Fi to 200 public spaces in Nigeria through its Google station initiative. The most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria will be the fifth country to launch Google station and the first on the continent.
Increased online users equates to more people using various Google products and increased advertising revenue for Google. While this might be a clear investment by Google to increase its bottom line, it is also a welcome move that has the potential to catalyze socioeconomic development in a country whose population is growing more quickly than her available resources.
McKinsey released a projection showing that if internet penetration continues to grow at the same rate mobile phone penetration did on the African continent, it could contribute as much as $300 billion to the continent’s total GDP, by the year 2025.
In Nigeria, a country of 198 million people, Internet penetration remains at only 53%, excluding millions from the many social and economic advantages that access to information through the Internet provides.
The good news is the government is starting to take notice. Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has embarked on a technology movement, recently visiting Silicon Valley in an effort to attract investments into Nigeria’s tech space. He was also present during the Google launch event. It’s rare to have a government official so involved in this space, especially as regulatory obstacles by the same government actively stymie the scaling of Internet connectivity. However, given expected population growth, this is a welcome and necessary intervention.
Access to affordable Internet and the SDGs
Nigeria is projected to have the third-highest population in the world by the year 2050, with over 60% of that population being young people. Giving these young people access to information about new technologies and a chance to build products that can leapfrog Africa’s infrastructural challenges and impact their communities by removing traditional barriers to entry will be crucial in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The 17 Sustainable Development goals were laid out by the United Nations on September 25, 2015. Key goals focus on economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. Only by achieving these together can the world truly meet its current needs without compromising the lives of future generations. Information, communication and technology (ICT) has shown that it has the potential to impact our ability to achieve the SDGs, especially in Africa, where innovative technology solutions have been built in areas from health, to finance, and education, streamlining processes and giving access to more people.
Google’s free Wi-Fi directly impacts Goal 9: increasing access to affordable Internet and ICT for more people in the poorest parts of the world — a goal that is crucial in achieving the other goals and targets.
Whilst access to the Internet can be taken for granted in most developed countries, this is not the case in many developing economies. To put the current reality into context, I spoke with one of Nigeria’s youngest technology founders, Timi Ajiboye, founder of Nigeria’s only Bitcoin exchange service, BitKoin Africa.
Timi built Bitkoin Africa after realizing that his peers were excluded from the opportunity to participate in the Cryptocurrency boom, simply because of the country they were located in and the payment tools they had access to. When he was studying in a local Nigerian university, he was advised to pick up a book by Bill Gates to read for inspiration on his coding journey. He dug into the book with vigor, but ended up closing it when after reading a passage where Gates went to research something in a free public library, which he had easy access to in the United States.