Technological progress is a driving force behind economic growth, citizen engagement, and job creation. Information and communication technologies (ICTs), in particular, are reshaping many aspects of the world’s economies, governments, and societies.
In this context, access to the internet has become a vital development tool. The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution is a digital revolution that requires universal and reliable internet access; without it, many developing countries will not be able to fully participate in an increasingly mobile and digital-based economy.
Public officials, businesses, and citizens in developing countries can harness the transformative power of ICTs to provide more efficient services, catalyze economic growth, and strengthen social networks. More than 75% of people around the world now have access to a cell phone. In Tanzania, for example, mobile money agents now outnumber all other financial intermediaries by a factor of 10 to 1. More than half of Tanzanians living on less than $2 a day have access to mobile technology.
At the same time, access to the internet through mobile or fixed broadband remains prohibitively expensive in many countries where lack of ICT infrastructure and regulatory bottlenecks still hamper broadband development. Of a global population of 7.4 billion people, more than 4 billion still don’t have access to the internet, with 90% of them in developing countries. And only 1.1 billion have access to high-speed internet.
The cost of residential fixed-broadband services amounts to about 30% of the average monthly Gross National Income (GNI) per capita in developing countries, compared to just 1.7% of the average national income in developed countries. This average masks vast discrepancies between and within countries, particularly affecting opportunities for the poor. In Djibouti, for example, a mobile broadband package costs more than the income of the country's poorest 60% of the population.
Under SDG # 9, the world set an ambitious target to “significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020”. It’s clear that governments, private sector, and the international community have a lot to do to reach this target and bridge the digital divide.
But progress is possible. Effective ICT policy reform can trigger greater private investment in broadband infrastructure and make internet access more affordable. Governments can also ensure fair taxation for the telecom industry, and use universal service funds to focus on broadband rollout, in partnership with others and under open access principles to develop healthy competition. These efforts will ultimately enable poverty reduction and shared prosperity.
Last Updated: Sep 23, 2016