The Internet era was born in the mid 1990s. On August 9, 1995, Netscape’s IPO caught the world by storm. It marked the passage of the Internet from a network primarily used by universities, research labs and geeks in general, to a platform with a vastly expanded reach and connectivity. Anyone with a personal computer and Web browser, was now able to access all kinds of content, communicate with people all over the world, and conduct a variety of transactions over the Internet.
The Internet became an incredible platform for innovation, enabling startups, large institutions, and everyone in between to quickly develop and bring to market many new digital products and services. Its reach and connectivity led to the creation of all kinds of innovative, digital applications. It enabled individual and institutions to do all the things they did much, much better. It transformed all kinds of every day activities, including the way we work, shop, learn, bank, listen to music, watch films and deal with government.
But, getting online and being able to access the Web and the many applications built around it required a personal computer and an Internet account. And, e-commerce transactions required a credit card or bank account. So, while the Internet was truly empowering for those with the means to use it, it led to serious concerns about the growing digital divide both within countries and across the world.
The reach and connectivity we were all so excited about in this initial phase of the Internet era was in reality not so inclusive. As our economy was becoming increasingly digital, major new inequalities were now arising because so many around the world could neither afford a PC or an Internet account and had no bank relationship or credit card. It was disconcerting to have a digital revolution and new information-based economy that left out the majority of the world’s population.