From a solar-powered webcam installed near Mount Everest to rural African Internet hubs in mobile shipping containers, it seems the Internet is reaching pretty much everywhere these days — often with the help of distributed, renewable energy sources to power it. The latest example of such innovation comes from Fast Company, which reports on Turkish shepherds using "solar-powered donkeys" to stay online. Of course "solar-powered donkeys" is a slight misnomer — donkey-powered solar may be more accurate. Shepherds are tethering solar panels and battery packs to the donkeys that accompany them into the mountains, and then using the electricity to stay connected and to power lights when their animals are giving birth.

On one level, there are very real, immediate benefits for improving the safety, comfort and business prospects for often poor shepherds. On the other, as the Fast Company article notes, there is also a potential for such technology to challenge government censorship and traditional power structures: 

“My first reaction was that at least in some respects the ‘digital divide’ idea was collapsing,” says Erkan Saka, an assistant professor of communications at Bilgi University in Istanbul. “At least in terms of connecting the Web, all citizens in Turkey are finding ways to connect.”
It's tempting, as the BBC report below shows, to talk about Internet access as being about "idly browsing the web." The real truth, however, is that connectivity is often a powerful tool for economic development, and can mean the difference between life or death in poor rural areas. By allowing farmers and rural traders access to the Internet, it allows them to keep track of weather conditions, market prices for their products, health care or technical advice and other crucial information that can be hard to come by in remote areas.

Related on MNN:

How solar-equipped donkeys are changing the lives of Turkish shepherds
In rural areas, Internet connectivity can be a powerful force for economic empowerment.