Lesser-Known Facts About the Internet

For something you probably use every day, you should know these facts.

Jan 9, 2014 at 10:00AM

The Internet: It's sure been around awhile. There is now a whole generation that wonders about the purpose of a printed map and why in the world phone directories exist. But even with its increasing age, there are still many surprises about the Internet that are unknown to most.

Here are a few:

A majority of humans don't use the Internet
With how ubiquitous it is, it may be difficult to imagine, but a majority of humanity doesn't use the Internet. As of 2013, Horace Dediu of Asymco projected global penetration of the Internet at 39%. In the U.S. in 2012, this figure was 81%. While many may think that those without Internet would not be worth anything to a profit-seeking business, providing communication services in developing communities can be very profitable. For example, Safaricom, the largest telecommunications company in Kenya, booked a $200 million profit in 2013.

Access to the Internet is becoming cheaper
While your cable bill may not have fallen, in recent years fixed-broadband services became more affordable for developing countries by a factor of five, according to the International Telecommunications Union. In 2008, fixed-broadband cost 165% of gross national income, or GNI, per capita for developing countries, which fell exponentially to 30% in 2012. There's still a large gap compared to developed countries, where fixed-broadband costs amount to about 2% of GNI per capita. 

While mobile-based access lacks the speed of fixed connections, it is much more affordable at 11% of GNI for developing countries. Between 2011 and 2013, mobile-broadband subscriptions more than doubled in developing countries, from 472 million to 1.16 billion.

Web companies are taking control of the infrastructure
With huge war chests of cash, companies such as Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) have been purchasing and investing in their own network infrastructure. While this infrastructure is usually the domain of telecommunications companies such as SprintVerizon (NYSE:VZ), or AT&T (NYSE:T), tech companies realize the value in a bit of vertical integration to deliver content faster and avoid any throttling issues. For example, in 2012 Facebook and 11 others invested in the $450 million Asia Pacific Gateway project that ran undersea cable from Malaysia to Japan with connections to all countries along the way. And Google joined five others to invest in the $300 million Unity cable, which connects Japan and the U.S. and was completed in 2010.

The Internet is likely a net gain for the environment
Tallying up the costs of devices and energy consumption versus any Internet-less reality would be impossible. But we do know the servers that support the Internet amount to only 1.3% of global energy use, and compared to transportation's energy use of 25%, each document or talk delivered electronically is likely a net gain for efficiency.

Additionally, major companies are taking steps to make sure their energy consumption comes from renewable sources. Facebook's new data center project in Iowa, to be completed this year, includes 138 megawatts of wind energy that will feed more energy into the grid than it expects to use. Google claims more than $1 billion in clean energy investments and has five contracts in place purchasing 570 megawatts of wind energy.

And it's still young
These facts show that the Internet still has more than half the world to claim. It may seem all the first-mover possibilities of commerce and social interaction are taken for the tech industry, but the nature of the Internet only allows for faster disruption of slower-moving Goliaths. Tastes and preferences always change, and a misstep could easily allow for a tech newcomer to quickly arise. It's becoming more likely such a newcomer would come from outside the U.S.

Interested in the next tech revolution?
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Fool contributor Dan Newman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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