Ever since the Arab Spring of 2011, there have been reports across the globe of how the Internet is changing lives, opening up democratic doors and making it easier for protesters and revolutionaries to organize and share information in the face of oppressive regimes.
Some of this is true. Micro-blogging sites like Twitter, which can function either online or through cell phones, have been a steady stream of information for concerned citizens the world over from places like Syria and Sudan.
However, in some cases this is just wishful thinking. The concept of a techno-utopia where information is freely shared and exposed online sounds fantastic unless your name is Bradley Manning. However, whether the web is going to totally transform politics or not isn’t even a discussion if there is no Internet access to begin with. A series of recent reports show that Mexico, one of the largest Democracies in the Western Hemisphere, has one of the lowest rates of Internet access in the world.
The Center for Research and Advanced studies has just released a report showing that Mexico’s Internet penetration rate is only 30%. Now what is Internet penetration? That is the percentage of a country’s population that has regular access to the Internet either at home, work or through some public resource like a library or school. To put Mexico’s numbers in context, the United States Internet penetration rate is about 78%, and the global average is 32%; which places Mexico behind political and economic powerhouses like Iran, Turkey and Brazil when it comes to Internet access.
Poor Internet access for such a large nation is about more than just bragging rights and access to the newest tweets from Shaq or Shakira. Increasingly, Internet access has become a proxy for political sophistication and economic viability in a nation. The Internet is used primarily for citizens to acquire and use information. That information can only be obtained online, to have a functional online society in a country where there must be infrastructure. And that infrastructure can only be established by an educated population.
Consider the table below based on recent research on Internet access in three disparate nations:
Table 1: Internet penetration in the three nations
|InternetPenetration||Internet users per 100 citizens||Mobile phone subscribers per 100|
|United States||78.2% (Dec 2011)||71.9 (2007)||83.5 (2007)|
|Mexico||30.7% (Dec 2011)||21.4 (2007)||64.1 (2007)|
|South Africa||13.5% (Dec 2011)||8.2 (2007)||87.1 (2007)|
*Information derived from http://www.internetworldstats.com/
Mexico’s lagging Internet penetration is also a result of the vast number of working poor and indigent in the country who have no access to phones of any variety. In many second and third world nations, people get access to cell phones before land-lines (if they ever had any) because mobile phones require less infrastructure. So what does all of this mean for Mexican democracy?
In general there are a few criteria needed for a nation to have a healthy democracy: Universal suffrage of all citizens; citizens’ rights to express themselves either as an individual or in mass action without fear of reprisal; and the peaceful transfer of power and institutional uncertainty (meaning elections are not a forgone conclusion). Mexico is facing one of its most crucial elections in a decade after finally breaking the 70 year grip of one-party rule by the PRI in 2000. But, the nation is poised to return the PRI to power in this summer’s elections. With a less informed electorate, the infiltration of government by drug cartels and poorer access to online information than any of their neighbors (not to mention the possible return of a borderline dictatorial party infrastructure) Mexico’s democracy is in serious peril.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.