ERIC SCHMIDT (CNN Photo/Paul Courson)
by Doug Gross
(CNN) — Everybody in the world will be on the Internet within seven years. That’s what Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said this weekend in public comments that inspired everything from excitement to incredulity.
“For every person online, there are two who are not,” Schmidt wrote Saturday on his Google+ account. “By the end of the decade, everyone on Earth will be connected.”
He followed up with a related thought on Sunday.
“Think about how great the internet is with 2B users. Now think about how amazing it will be when 5B come online in a decade. #NewDigitalAge.”
It’s just the sort of big thinking that has led Google to become one of the largest and most innovative tech companies in the world. But some of Schmidt’s own followers took exception.
“You really believe that? What about the millions in Africa who can’t even get enough food to eat or the natives in South America who have no idea what technology is?” a Google+ user going by the name “Mary M” wrote. “Maybe you should rephrase to those in civilized areas or something like that…”
About 38% of the world’s population uses the internet in 2013, up from about 35% last year, according to the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency dedicated to information and communication technology.
With poor and developing nations around the world isolated by crumbling or nonexistent Web infrastructures, and others hindered by factors ranging from remote geography to government censorship, is Schmidt’s vision overly optimistic?
Maybe. But don’t rule it out.
As Business Insider’s Julie Bort notes, there are some projects under way to bring everyone the advantages of the digital age.
Google itself supports a project called Geeks Without Frontiers, a nonprofit group that donates computers and related technology to poor areas around the world. Focusing largely on Mexico, Central America and Africa, the decade-old group now aims to bring wireless access to regions with no traditional Web access.
Samsung also is backing a project to turn old shipping containers into solar-powered, Web-enabled classrooms in places like South Africa and Sudan.
The rise of the mobile Web is also sure to play a role. In Africa, more people have access to a mobile phone than have access to electricity. In South Africa, for instance, Google says, 25% of its searches during the week are via mobile devices, rising to 65% on the weekends.