The tools to connect the next billion people to the internet have been hiding in plain sight

The tiny island of Idjwi in the Democratic Republic of Congo has a population of over 250,000 people. Yet until as recently as May of this year, fewer than ten households had a computer, and none had internet connectivity.

Thanks to the efforts of a nonprofit organization called Ensemble Pour La Difference and an innovation consultancy named Fjord, more than 10,000 Idjwi residents now have access to weather forecasts, current agricultural prices, and news about travel safety via an internet-linked public-display system in their central market.

Finding new ways to connect the half of the world that remains offline is among the main reasons that more than 2,000 people from over 100 countries gathered in Guadalajara, Mexico, last week for the Internet Governance Forum. The challenge is that nearly half the world remains offline, and broadband adoption rates have been slowing down. This year’s theme, “Enabling Inclusive and Sustainable Growth,” linked internet connectivity to specific and measurable sustainable-development goals such as increasing economic opportunity, education, health, and empowerment. Although a wide range of governments, companies, and non-profit organizations are experimenting with new ways to increase internet access to those around the world who need it, information about these efforts is nonexistent at worse—and haphazard at best.

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