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 percent 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 one. More than half of Tanzanians living on less than US$2 a day have access to mobile technology.

At the same time, access to 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 people still don’t have access to the internet, with 90 percent of them in developing countries. And only 1.1 billion have access to high-speed internet.

Residential fixed-broadband services cost about 30 percent of average monthly Gross National Income (GNI) per capita in developing countries – compared to just 1.7 percent of average national income in wealthy 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 percent 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 ensure access to internet is 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: Apr 06, 2016

The World Bank Group’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector strategy  aims to unleash the digital opportunities for sustainable development. The ICT global practice is helping developing countries harness the potential of ICTs to transform the delivery of public services, drive innovations and productivity gains, and improve overall competitiveness by increasing access to broadband internet. 

The strategy, and respective business plan for the next three years (2016-18), aims at: expanding digital connectivity by enabling the right policy and regulatory frameworks for a competitive ICT environment; strengthening the analog foundations of the digital economy, by building the necessary skills so people can effectively use the internet; and improving global cooperation to address trans-boundary challenges like cyber-crime.

Under this strategy, the World Bank Group also focuses on three action areas:

  • Transformation: Making development more open and accountable, and improving service delivery – for instance, by facilitating citizen feedback to governments and service providers. This also includes helping countries build integrated digital platforms and solutions, so institutions become more effective and accountable.
  • Connectivity: Scaling up affordable access to broadband for all – including for women, disabled citizens, disadvantaged communities and people living in remote and rural areas.  
  • Innovation: Developing competitive IT-based service industries and fostering ICT innovation across the economy – with a focus on job creation, especially for women and youth.

The 2016 World Development Report on Digital Dividends showed that digital technologies, primarily mobile phones and the internet, have contributed to considerable growth in many countries. A 10 percent increase in high-speed internet connections, for instance, leverages a 1.4 percent increase in economic growth (on average) in developing countries.

Improved services to citizens through e-government projects, job creation in the creative and high-tech industries, additional trade flows, and small producers from developing countries linking up with global value chains are only a few examples. Broadening digital access will bring even greater benefits for innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation. 

Over the last ten years, the World Bank has invested around $3.3 billion in ICT projects. We have also provided support for policy and regulatory reforms, and catalytic funding for telecommunications infrastructure under PPP financing schemes.

World Bank Group lending for stand-alone ICT projects in Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) totaled US$279 million for seven projects. ICT components, however, are increasingly included in projects across different sectors such as transport, education, health, agriculture and public sector management.

The Bank’s portfolio of ICT components in active projects has grown from about US$500 million in 2006 to approximately US$2.0 billion in 2015.

The IFC has provided more than US$8 billion to more than 150 telecom, media and technology projects in 80 countries over the past years. In FY15, the IFC committed financing for a total volume of US$335 million, including investments in innovative technologies across various industries – manufacturing, infrastructure, health, education as well as e-commerce.  

MIGA has provided investment guarantees totaling more than US$2 billion in the ICT sector over the past 25 years, including US$855 million for projects in Sub-Saharan Africa. FY15 guarantees totaled US$30.2 million, supporting one project in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The World Bank’s ICT work is informed by in-depth analytical work. Recent publications include:

Last Updated: Apr 06, 2016

The World Bank Group’s work in the ICT sector aims to empower people socially, economically and politically to reduce poverty and increase shared prosperity. Below are some examples of projects that have lowered barriers to mobile and internet access, boosted jobs and improved government effectiveness and transparency.

In West Africa, we have helped connect seven countries to the Africa Coast to Europe submarine fiber optic cable. As a result, the price of internet access has dropped dramatically, by more than half in most cases, allowing more schools, households, and SMEs to connect to better quality internet. In the Gambia alone, the wholesale price for internet access is less than a fifth of what it used to be.

In Myanmar, we helped the government to create the right regulatory environment and attract foreign investment, while developing the local IT industry and creating jobs.  In 2012, it cost $300 to buy a SIM card in Myanmar. Now, it costs just $1.50—and users can choose from three operators.

In the Pacific region, the World Bank is helping the populations of remote islands gain access to broadband internet, making it easier and cheaper for people to connect to friends, jobs and knowledge. In August 2013, a new 830-kilometer fiber optic cable connected the country of Tonga, made up of 176 islands spread across 700,000 square kilometers of ocean, to Fiji and onwards to global broadband networks. As a result, the household price for a monthly internet service, per gigabyte, has fallen by 60 percent, and bandwidth utilization has grown tenfold. The arrival of broadband in Tonga is expected to help create more local jobs through business expansion, as well as facilitate access to remote health and education services. Similar benefits are expected to spread throughout the Pacific as other countries join the Pacific Regional Connectivity Program.

In Afghanistan, a US$22 million credit supported sector reform that made the telecommunications market more competitive and attracted more than US$1.2 billion in private investments. This helped increase the number of telephone subscribers from 57,000 to 13.4 million between 2002 and 2010, and reduce costs from US$2 a minute to 10 cents a minute.

An additional project for US$50 million aims to expand access to internet for more Afghans, building on widespread use of mobile phones to improve the delivery of public services, and supporting nascent entrepreneurship in the ICT sector. To date, about 186 kilometers of fiber cable have been constructed, and some 600 Afghans have been trained to become skilled information technology (IT) professionals.

In Mexico, boosting skilled job creation in the IT industry is also at the core of MexicoFirst. This institution, supported by the World Bank, trains and certifies IT workers for higher- paying jobs. As of 2013, more than 64,000 people were certified by MexicoFirst. An impact evaluation study found that graduates received an average salary increase of 36 percent after going through the certification program. ICTs are also creating new types of work, such as online contracting and micro work, particularly in environments constrained by lack of quality physical infrastructure, travel restrictions or social norms.

In the Palestinian Territories, where youth and female unemployment rates are particularly high, the World Bank Group provided technical assistance to facilitate the creation of online work business partnerships between Palestinian workers and international online work companies.

In Moldova, the World Bank and its partners have helped usher an ambitious agenda that aims to transform the delivery of public services using ICTs, including the first public sector-shared cloud infrastructure for a client country, and the launch of online e-services that have improved citizen-government interactions. There are now 395 services on the Government Services Portal, of which 95 are online e-services. Moldova has won several international awards, including one by Transparency International, for its work in this area.

Last Updated: Apr 06, 2016

The World Bank, along with others partners, is also embarking on new efforts to increase support to developing countries on this agenda. One of these initiatives is the Digital Development Partnership which brings together private sector, development partners and other stakeholders to help countries reap digital dividends. The other one is the Global Connect Initiative, which aims to expand access to the internet for an additional 1.5 billion people by 2020.


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