WiFli Wants To Bring Internet Access To The Entire Planet

Connectivity can help raise people out of poverty. But it’s hard to get people in developing countries online. A new organization thinks it can get everyone connected—for cheap.

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.

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  • Delphi

    I am giving my feedback from Iran, the country that has started its national intranet (that they call it the national internet) from a couple of days ago and for their first action, they blocked Google and all its related services, Gmail included. According to their roadmap, they plan to run their own type of national intranet and the internet together for a while so that people and businesses could shift their activities to the national one, then they are going to block the internet, all of it.

    Such connection option as WiFli would be best choice for Iranians, if they are affordable. Obviously the government will fight its importation and people will have to risk on their own. But Iranian people have used to do so: they have been banned from satellite TV channels for years, they have been banned from drinking alcoholic drinks but in reality many people do at their own risk. Question is, is it possible for WiFli to cover this need? I know this will be a challenge but I think it will worth it.

  • Naman

    They definitely need to provide cheap wi-fi enabled mobile phones and tablets. This is the only way to reduce poverty.

  • Jim Ayson

    What about the role of mobile phones? Aren't these the way to go for developing countries accessing the internet rather than big desktops and big monitors that require electricity?

  • Greene

    Good point. In fact it is expected that every new Internet user in Asia today will assess the Internet via mobile phones and not desktops. 

  • Krishna_vaitla

    Wifli is a good idea, which can help lot of people to come over poverty. But there sholud be even cheapr devices to connect to Wifi..

  • greene

    There are already many affordable and very robust solutions for connectivity through WIfi from emerging markets. Whist I appreciate the intention to connect the unconnected here, there are many efforts in South Africa, India, Kenya and many other emerging markets have low cost, low energy Wi-fi mesh technologies implemented over the last 5-8 years already. Rather than reinvent the wheel, why not learn from these efforts. Not to mention, in Philippines, there is great Internet talent. They are very talented and innovative people, and one of the first countries in the world to do mobile banking (mid 90s already). Doing the right gap analysis of what the bottlenecks are, and working hand in hand with the local talent there will be key to success of a project like this.