The digital divide between nations remains wide: a person in a high-income country is over 22 times more likely to be an Internet user than one in a low-income nation. There are signs, however, that information and communication technology (ICT) diffusion is slowly becoming more equal, according to UNCTAD´s newly released report: The Digital Divide: ICT Diffusion Index 2005.
The report ranks 180 countries and monitors how the digital divide is evolving. As expected, the top places are dominated by industrial nations from North America and Western Europe and by the Asian “tigers,” while many of the lower-ranking countries are in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are many reasons for the digital divide, but most are related to the primary cause: poverty.
In a high-income country, Internet affordability relative to income is over 150 times better than in a low-income nation. Even in lower-middle income countries, the cost of 20 hours of inferior Internet service is nearly one-third the average monthly income. It is only in the high-income countries that the cost of Internet service is low enough as to be broadly affordable for most households and small businesses. Even within those nations, digital divides exist between urban and rural areas, the two genders, age groups, and racial groups. There are roughly 1 billion people in about 800,000 villages in developing countries without any kind of connection to computer networks.
The Digital Divide report provides six case studies on countries that have successfully promoted growth in ICT: Botswana, Chile, China, India, Singapore and the United States. These nations have combined ICT liberalization – privatization, competition and independent regulation – with responsible government planning, investment and procurement.
The report ends on a positive note by looking into the various possibilities for connecting every village in the world within a decade or so through the construction of public Internet backbones. This vision is shared by many leading experts and has inspired much research over the past 10 to 15 years. The construction of such a network would require multi-stakeholder partnerships at all levels.
Tables and figures
ICT connectivity rankings
Central African Rep.
Source: UNCTAD, 2006