Report Says Global Digital Divide Growing
Even though telecommunication penetration has risen sharply in developing nations, the global digital divide is getting wider, according to the main conclusion of the 2002 World Telecommunication Development Report.
The report, which is sponsored by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), contends that the general levels of telephone service are growing rapidly, but are doing so from an extremely low base. The report noted there is great disparity in the quality of Internet access available around the world.
According to Michael Minges, the head of the ITU’s telecoms data and statistics unit, the “gap in terms of quality access to the Internet appears to be worsening.”
Mobile communication technology is allowing more people in poor countries to gain access to voice communications. According to the report, at the end of 2001, there were more than one billion subscribers worldwide to mobile networks and that number is poised to overtake the number of fixed line subscribers this year.
“Mobile has raised access to communications to new levels,” said the report. “In developing nations, and particularly in the least developed nations, mobile is increasing access in a surprisingly quick time.”
The report also cites the progress made by Uganda as an example of what other nations can achieve. Its introduction of a second nationwide mobile network in 1998, operating on a prepaid model, led to a dramatic increase in telephone service penetration, with the number of users rising by more than 300 percent in four years.
This growth, however, came from an extremely low level of service penetration. Uganda has gone from 0.41 telephone subscribers per 1,000 people in 1998 to 1.72 in 2001, according to the report.
The report urges the developed world to help close the gap by funding grass-roots projects that use communication technologies to improve livelihoods, incubate technology start-ups in developing nations and build out infrastructure. It adds that the governments of developing nations must play their role in formulating suitable strategies based on private sector participation, market liberalization and independent regulation.
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