Author(s): Raghu Gopal
CSquared is a Google subsidiary that aims to provide wholesale, operator-agnostic Internet infrastructure to underserved regions of the world. It then works with partners to provide last-mile connectivity to households and businesses.
This week, CSquared announced it is becoming a four-way partnership to accelerate the programme. Convergence Partners, International Finance Corporation and Mitsui will become permanent partners of CSquared. The company says the three new collaborators have expertise in investing in sub-Saharan Africa.
Africa lags behind most of the world in Internet access — only 6 percent of the continent's population is able to consistently go online. The infrastructure gap makes it difficult for countries in the region to achieve their potential.
Major technology companies have been eager to support universal Internet access in underserved areas. There's certainly goodwill behind their motivations, but offering connectivity enables them to introduce their services, which creates some controversy. Regulators that see zero-rated connectivity as a way for well-entrenched and well-funded global players to quickly block out local competitors could act to prevent this. Nonetheless, when access is free-flowing, it can be widely used and much appreciated.
For example, in India, Google has introduced free public Wi-Fi services, particularly at railway stations. The open hot spots, part of Google's overarching plan to target the "next billion" Internet users, work well and pull in crowds of people. We can certainly assume that many of these users are performing Google searches, but it's difficult not to see this as a win-win situation, at least in the short term.
With its CSquared initiative and spin-off, Google is doubling down on its efforts to support the underlying Internet infrastructure in developing regions. The project will accelerate the build-out of needed infrastructure and ultimately accelerate deployment of Internet connectivity to end users.