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Google Wi-Fi In India: Cart Before The Horse?3 min read

3 min read

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[/vc_raw_html][text_output]Education. Equal rights. Clean water. Electricity. Healthcare. Finance. Fair, transparent and accountable public services.

I’m not an economist, or an expert in international development, but these seem like essentials for lifting people out of poverty, and so growing an economy.

But high-speed Wi-Fi at railway stations?

Delivering the internet to everyone

India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, visited the US last week. His itinerary included a historical visit to California. Modi met with leaders at Google, Tesla Motors and Facebook. On the day of their meeting, Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, announced a project for Google to provide high-speed public Wi-Fi in 400 train stations across India.

Last year, Facebook publicised its project “to build drones, satellites and lasers to deliver the internet to everyone” and Google’s Project Loon – first tested in 2013 – has a similar ambition for balloons.

And of course, in order to use the internet, you need a device with which to connect to online services and other people. Last year Google launched Android One in India: well-spec’d smartphones priced from just Rs 6,399 (about £64).


A tool for economic productivity

I’m in two minds about it all. I love the internet. It’s amazing. It empowers us and connects us, and obviously it’s a tool for economic productivity.

And if we’re being ambitious about economic development, why shouldn’t we “deliver the internet to everyone?” It’s a foundation for the future; and we’ve seen how technology can catalyse a leapfrog forward: mobile phones and text messaging have brought long-distance communication and financial services to developing economies without being preceded by landlines or bank branches.


A question of priorities

On the other hand, you have to question the priorities. This is a bit finger in the air, but: in GOOGLE WI-FI IN INDIA: CART BEFORE THE HORSE?proportion with the average wage in India, a £64 smartphone is comparable to a £640 one in the UK. Many people have them and benefit from them, but these are the wealthiest people in society and not those in desperate need of support.

I just can’t imagine one of the 25% of rural Indians who live in poverty benefiting from internet access, until they have food to eat. I can’t imagine one of the 25% of illiterate Indians benefiting from internet access, until they can read and write.

Since Google and Facebook want to see the next billion people get online (and into their market), they are surely thinking about new ways they might be able to support education; equal rights; clean water; electricity; health care; finance; and fair, transparent and accountable public services. It would be nice to see more of these initiatives in the headlines: I don’t like feeling cynical.[/text_output][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][visibility type=”hidden-desktop”][gap size=”20px”][/visibility][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”ups-sidebar-2″][/vc_column][/vc_row]