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What if ... the way we invest in access perpetuates the global digital and socioeconomic divides?

Digital Opportunity – Winners and Not-Quite-Winners

“I hate that place”, Angel gestures at the vast, low-rise data centre crouched behind barbed wire.

The fence runs hundreds of metres along an empty road. We’re twenty kilometres from the city. In a country where 40% of the population is still offline, this former plantation runs fibre optic cable straight to the country’s main Internet exchange.

Angel leans out of the four-wheel drive to point at the huge “Keep Out” sign.

“Sometimes I drive out here on my scooter and just look at it. I think about burning it down”.

I say that sounds kind of extreme.

“OK”, Angel says, in his Hollywood-accented English, “Where I live, we get brownouts all the time. Blackouts, too. You can’t build anything that’s gonna change your life on maybe six hours of power a day”.

“But you’ve got access, right”? I ask.

“When the power’s on we get 56k dial-up”, Angel says, “You even know what that is"?

“I’m from New York and I’m under forty”, I laugh, “I have absolutely no idea”.

“You dial up each time you want to connect. There’s no “always on”. And it drops out. All. The. Time. I design a website, I’m uploading pages and boom. It’s gone. Start again".

“That sounds frustrating”, I say.

Angel jerks his thumb at the data centre.

“But in there, lights are always on. They ration broadband from the exchanges to, like, fifty connections, and that’s one of them”.

“So”, I say. “It looks like opportunity, but it’s not”?

“They get the energy”, he says, “The tax breaks. You know there are maybe three people working in there? But when it opened, the whole government got their pictures taken. It’s like, they get the cream and we’re just... ”

He pauses and takes a deep breath.

“It makes me mad”, he says, quietly. “It makes me want to do something".

This story shows us how the Internet might evolve. But the path we take is up to us.

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