That First Message Mobile Internet is a part of everyday life for most people but when everyday life gets upended, it becomes a lifeline.

Babu Ram Aryal looking through the ruins of Nepal following the 2015 earthquake

In the Global North, the mobile Internet often gets taken for granted. A tool for people to post photos of their breakfast to Instagram or get football scores sent to their pockets while they’re out and about. At best it’s a way for Type A personalities to be in constant contact with the office.

In the rest of the world, though, mobile Internet is a crucial communication tool. It represents the ability to get online in places where computers are unaffordable, and wireline infrastructure is hard to come by. In a humanitarian crisis, mobile Internet becomes a literal lifeline. Several recent viral social media posts have questioned whether or not refugees and migrants are “legitimate” because of the prevalence of smartphones in refugee camps. In reality, they need mobile Internet access more than almost everyone else. If you were fleeing your home and everyone cared about, you’d probably value the ability to stay in contact with them more than almost anything else.

As president of the Internet Society’s Nepal chapter, I know what it feels like to potentially everything – including contact with those you love. Back in April/May, I also fled for my life. In this case, it wasn’t from war, but from a natural disaster when an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale hit Nepal. In the moments after the earthquake hit, I hopped on my motorbike and raced home through the damaged city to my family.

People shouldn’t be shocked to see refugees with mobile phones — regardless of whether they’re fleeing war, political persecution, or natural disasters — because in most of the world, the Internet is mobile.
Babu Ram Aryal President, Internet Society Nepal Chapter

I was talking with my wife and telling her that I would arrive home in one or two hours. Suddenly we felt the earthquake, and she said that there was a tremor. She put the phone down and rushed to another room where our daughter was sleeping. I tried to call back her on land line but couldn’t. Immediately after the first tremor, I drove to my apartment. I was able to find my wife and daughter outside the building but was still worried about parents, who live in another part of the country. Mobile Internet access allowed me to make sure they were also unharmed.

I was brought up in a big family, and some of them live in the USA and Canada now. My parents are living in Chitwan, one of Southern District of Nepal. After the earthquake, I was trying to connect my parents but it was not connecting due to congestions. I received a Skype call from my brother who lives in Toronto and said he had already talked with the parents, and they were safe. I wasn’t the only one. All around me, people were using Facebook to let their loved ones know they were OK. For some people, being able to connect to the Internet saved their lives.

People were constantly updating their statuses. Many people were rescued, and necessary relief was supplied based on social media postings. [Being able to access the Internet] put them in psychological rest and relieved trauma caused by the disconnected situation. Power was cut off, but batteries could charge mobile handsets.

People shouldn’t be shocked to see refugees with mobile phones — regardless of whether they’re fleeing war, political persecution, or natural disasters — because, in most of the world, the Internet is mobile.

A picture of ISOC Nepal rebuilding a village

In Nepal, we have very diverse geography. Most of our land is covered by either mountain or snow; landlines are tough to connect to people in these areas. Mobile is the only affordable choice for people because it’s so easy to communicate to the people.”

What’s true in Nepal is also true throughout the developing world. According to ISOC’s Global Internet Report, the developing world consumes more mobile broadband content than the developed world, where people are more likely to use computers to get online. According to the report, starting in September of 2014, smartphones represented more than half of the mobile phones sold in the developing world.

Mobile Internet is a part of everyday life for most people but when daily life gets upended, be it by war or nature, it becomes a lifeline.