Be-Bound in Laos connecting rural villages

The Digital Divide in Laos: What’s at Stake

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The Internet was first introduced to Laos in 1994 with an email server set up at the Lao National Polytechnic Institute, and by 2016, the number of reported internet users in the country stood at just 15.7% of the population. This is up from the 7% reported in 2010, which was already double the number of users there were in 2008. But with 84.3% of the country still unconnected today, the digital divide remains a complex challenge. Even though Laos has experienced a steady rise in internet users along with economic development, bridging the digital divide requires more than just introducing the population to smartphones and computers.

The country of Laos provides a case study that demonstrates the main barriers to internet adoption and helps us understand what needs be done to get more people connected.

Barriers to Connectivity

In 2012, Laos had 101.9 mobile cellular subscriptions for every 100 inhabitants. This same phenomenon can be seen today on a global level where mobile subscriptions outpace the world population. Interest in mobile phones is therefore not a barrier to internet connectivity. So what is? Well, these are the 4 barriers that have been identified:

The 4 barriers to connectivity: availability, affordable, cost, and relevance
The 4 barriers to connectivity that explain the global digital divide

 

The disparity between mobile phone usage and internet subscriptions in Laos. Source: International Telecommunications Union
The disparity between mobile phone usage and internet subscriptions in Laos. Source: International Telecommunications Union

The Be-Bound Team on Location in Laos: What We Learned

Last month, after setting off with the goal of proving that Be-Bound’s N4B technology has the power to connect unconnected populations, our Head of Deployments, Guillaume Favez, found himself in Laos traveling on average 8 hours a day from one rural village to another. In the meantime, he discovered firsthand the scope of the digital divide in Laos.

  • Many people living in Laos’ rural areas do not have birth certificates, which means that the percent of the population living in rural areas is actually much higher than any official figure being reported.
  • There may be more than 10M people living in Laos, even if official statistics report ~6.7M.  As Guillaume says, “The lack of digital records has secondary consequences. For example, when I asked my guide his age, he told me he doesn’t know if he’s 33, 34, or 35.”
  • Every village does not necessarily have a school. When there is a school, there is no internet access.
  • Not all kids are guaranteed an education. If you take for example a family with 8 children, only a lucky 2 will be chosen to attend school, and they will attend until about the age of 15.
  • Children venture out on their own at an early age, and even construct their own homes
  • Almost all villages have electricity, and in the villages that do, most houses are equipped.
  • Some homes do have a television.

On his trip, Guillaume encountered all 4 of the identified barriers to connectivity. In these rural villages, the most pressing issue is the lack of perceived value. Often when Be-Bound visits large cities with connectivity issues, the hurdles are a matter of infrastructure or cost, but the value of the internet is readily understood by local populations. It’s when you go into these rural areas where you’re really faced with populations living day-to-day without the internet. In Laos, 65% of rural towns do not have 3G, meaning that if someone never leaves the town, they will never have any form of internet. None! Making quality content that is relevant will be what proves the value of the internet to these populations and expands their opportunities exponentially. Be-Bound’s N4B technology can be integrated into any Android app to advance the progress of countries working to improve economic development.

Be-Bound Demo in a Rural Village of Laos

The benefits of internet are widely agreed to contribute to sustainable development. ICT paves the way not only to a more developed economy, but for individuals to contribute to society in ways not previously possible, and in doing so, better their own lives.

So what can Be-Bound do? Take a look:

 

Guillaume’s Favorite Part of the Job? 

Meeting the kids of course!

Guillaume Favez meeting local children while visiting rural villages in Laos to test Be-Bound technology
Guillaume Favez making friends in the rural villages of Laos while testing Be-Bound’s technology

 

Child in Laos walking toward camera and computer. Be-Bound.
We’re on the brink of a digital revolution!

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