Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Invasion Of The Web

Last week, it was reported that Singapore is now the most wired nation in the world.

At 99.9% household broadband penetration rate, the number is close to 'pure gold'. At this rate, we are ahead of South Korea (92%), Hong Kong (83.8%) and Taiwan (76.8%).

This is quite a feat considering 3 years ago, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) was just aiming at 90% by 2015. At that time, the penetration rate was 50% and the 90% target seemed rather stretched, if not, realistic.

I admit that my initial reaction towards the improved penetration rate was a skeptical one. I know many people do have access to broadband at home. However, 99.9% seems incredibly high!. As it turned out, it was because of the way the statistics were put together.

The IDA explained that the high rate is due to the fact that some families have more than one mode of broadband access, such as, having a fixed home connection and a portable modem as well. So, on an average, the overall access rate is high.

The improvement is also largely due to cheaper charges by telcos. Three years ago, telcos were charging $47 a month for Net-access speeds of 512kbps. Now, a user can surf at speeds of 10MBps for less than that.

In fact, the 99.9% does not include subscriptions to 3G plans and Wi-Fi hotspots, which are accessed outside homes. Putting all these together, it gives me a feeling that almost every other person here ought to be connected to the Internet.

If that is the case, are we now more informed than three years ago? I am not too sure about that.

I was having a casual chat with a co-worker just the other day and our conversation kind of strayed into the domain of wireless, a topic which I did not expect to last beyond a few sentences as I did not really have much to say.

But to my surprise, it was terminated before we could even begin as she asked cluelessly, "What is wireless?"

Well, I supposed we still have that 0.1% to work on.

However, compared to many other countries, the issue of digital divide is not very big here. It helps that we are a tiny and compact city state and getting connected is relatively simpler than doing the same over a huge mass of land.

Picture this: In a backward village in Nepal, people live in simple huts and grow their own food. In their living rooms, the dwellers surf the Internet with their computers, just like what I am doing now, wirelessly.

Difficult as it may be, the Internet has already penetrated the rural parts of the world, thanks to the availability of technology which enable them to set up wireless base stations at more affordable cost.

Many of these villagers are using the Internet free of charge or at very low cost. They are the beneficiaries of some charitable organisations which are committed to bring the world wide web to the less privileged.

One Singapore company, Smartbridges, which has set up a charitable foundation for this purpose, is one such example.

Increasingly, the ability to access to information quickly has become key to survival, both for developed and developing nations. Internet connection will soon become, if not, has become as basic as other needs such as food, clean water and sanitation. It is no longer a luxury.

To live up to its name, world wide web must indeed be 'world wide' and we are on our way there. Given this, if we, the people living in the most wired nation, are still giving ourselves excuses not to get connected effectively, we are merely waiting to be replaced.

Don't let that happen to you.

"A computer terminal is not some clunky old television with a typewriter in front of it. It is an interface where the mind and body can connect with the universe and move bits of it about.”- Douglas Adam (British Writer)

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