Bringing universal Internet access to the entire planet is an audacious goal, but one that isn’t entirely out of place at Singularity University’s graduate studies program, where students are asked over the course of a summer to come up with projects that could affect 1 billion people in 10 years. Universal Internet access—a project idea from some of this summer’s Singularity students—certainly fits the bill.
The project, dubbed WiFli, wants to use empty wireless frequency spectra (Google once considered a version of this idea, and tried to buy rights to a wireless frequency band that was once used by television broadcasters) along with cheap hardware to bring the Internet to the world’s poor on the cheap. "[We want] Internet connectivity at low costs for the disenfranchised. It’s a way of stopping poverty and job loss," says team member Federico Pistono.
WiFli is starting its mission in the Philippines—a country of over 100 million people, two-thirds of which lack Internet access. Over 40% of Filipinos live on less than $2 a day, so buying DSL (the cheapest Internet option) can run them up to half their average monthly wages. The initiative is still in the early stages—after all, the concept was only formulated this summer. But the team, which has connections to the government of the Philippines, has already successfully set up a computer lab with WiFi access at a 1,300-student school in the country. Ideally, WiFli would like to team up with local entrepreneurs to create subscription programs and franchises, at prices the locals could afford.
A computer lab is an extremely tiny step on the way to universal Internet access, but it’s a start. And WiFli is already thinking about its next steps. "We’re interested in Brazil and India, but fewer people are looking to the Philippines," says Pistono.