Africa, Web Access: What Google's Doing Right

With a growing tradition of political stability and increasing confidence with the rule of law, combined with the arrival of a sophisticated technological infrastructure as signaled by the O3b Network, the countries will soon be halfway there (and, indeed, in their big cities, thousands of professionals already are).

That leaves education -- elementary is already good, secondary fair and university level pretty poor unless you're white -- and capital. Africa is a land of entrepreneurs, who unfortunately have no access to either money or distribution.

What makes O3b interesting, and the arrival to widespread wireless broadband to Africa perhaps historic, is that its very presence may help to solve those last two challenges.

If a kid in Missouri can take courses online from Cal or Harvard, why not a kid in Malawi? And if the owner of a small business in Marin can sell craft items around the world via a Web site, why not a shopkeeper in Livingstone? And, once a venture capitalist knows that a local economy is safe from crime, government expropriation or the rule of bribery, why wouldn't he or she invest in a new startup in Botswana, in the same way that VC does now in China?

The problem with the poor people of Africa is not that they are stupid, but that they are off the grid. And that, too often, they are at the mercy of people who see them only as pawns.

Google may be doing some scary things these days, but this isn't one of them. Watch what happens when the people of Africa join us in the global economy; when they discover that instead of being pawns they can be kings.

This is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michael S. Malone is one of the nation's best-known technology writers. He has covered Silicon Valley and high-tech for more than 25 years, beginning with the San Jose Mercury News as the nation's first daily high-tech reporter. His articles and editorials have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, the Economist and Fortune, and for two years he was a columnist for The New York Times. He was editor of Forbes ASAP, the world's largest-circulation business-tech magazine, at the height of the dot-com boom. Malone is the author or co-author of a dozen books, notably the best-selling "Virtual Corporation." Malone has also hosted three public television interview series, and most recently co-produced the celebrated PBS miniseries on social entrepreneurs, "The New Heroes." He has been the ABCNews.com "Silicon Insider" columnist since 2000.

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