A boy next to a street stall selling cell phone cards and internet access in Kinshasa in 2015 – Copyright AFP Wojtek RADWANSKI
Microsoft announced plans on Wednesday to bring Internet access via satellite to 10 million people, half of them in Africa, as part of efforts to bridge the digital divide with the developing world.
At a summit with African leaders in Washington led by President Joe Biden, the tech leader said he would start the satellite project immediately with the priority of bringing the internet to parts of Egypt, Senegal and Angola for the first time.
Microsoft Chairman Brad Smith said the company was impressed with its engineers in Nairobi and Lagos.
In Africa, “there is no shortage of talent, but there is a great shortage of opportunity,” Smith told AFP.
In the partnership with satellite provider Viasat, Microsoft said it will also provide internet in Guatemala, Mexico and more remote parts of the United States and will also step up efforts in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Smith said the biggest obstacle to internet access has been a lack of electricity, which is unreliable for about half of Africans.
“For people who don’t go there or don’t spend time thinking about Africa, it’s hard to even imagine because electricity is the greatest invention of the 19th century in my opinion,” Smith said.
“When you think about broadband, you can’t have Internet access at any speed without access to electricity,” he said.
He said that Microsoft focused on finding low-cost solutions in areas where both the Internet and electricity are absent.
Smith said he saw broad support in Africa for providing internet access, saying many governments have outperformed their Western counterparts in ease of regulation as the continent did not have the same “extraordinary network of licensing regimes”. From the past.
The ministries are often headed by Africans with industry experience, “so they know how business works and they know how government works,” Smith said.
“Even in countries where we may find more authoritarian challenges, I think governments are more likely to want to control what is available on the internet rather than its availability,” he said.
The latest effort is part of Microsoft’s Airband Initiative, which aims to bring internet access to 250 million people, 100 million of them in Africa, by the end of 2025.
Despite rapid advances in the Internet in developed countries and some major emerging economies, 2.9 billion people, or more than a third of the world, have never been connected, according to the UN’s International Telecommunication Union.