Developing World Behind with Broadband ‘Utility’

GENEVA ~ Broadband internet access is becoming so vital for businesses that it can be seen as a new utility, comparable to water and electricity, the UN’s Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said in a report.

The growing importance of high-speed internet access is “disturbing news” for the developing world, where broadband access is scarce, because technology is exerting an ever-greater influence on global business trends, UNCTAD warned.

“It’s absolutely necessary for countries because without broadband, it is difficult to have e-business,” said Genevieve Feraud, one of the authors of the Information Economy Report 2006.

“Broadband is so important that we call it a utility which is just as necessary as water, electricity,” she told journalists.

Developing countries also often lack the necessary infrastructure to provide the service at a reasonable price, the report said.

UNCTAD said developing nations were catching up in the number of overall internet users.

In 2005, developing countries accounted for 43 percent of the world’s 1.02 billion users, compared to 53 percent for developed nations and 5 percent for transition economies in ex-Soviet states and southeast Europe.

However, developing countries are lagging far behind in terms of the proportion of their inhabitants who use the tnternet, with an average penetration rate of just 8.5 users per 100 inhabitants compared to 54.4 per 100 in industrialized economies.

The UN agency noted the difficulty of obtaining comprehensive data on information technology, especially in poor countries.

Of 151 developing countries covered by the report, only 71 submitted data on the subject.

Forty-eight of those 71 countries, nearly two-thirds, said that broadband penetration rates were under 1 percent.

In fast-growing China, the penetration rate was only 2.9 percent, according to the report, although it ranks second only to the United States in terms of the number of internet users.

UNCTAD said effective government action was required to bridge this digital divide, and to help developing countries expand their information and communication technology networks.

A similar call has been made many times over recent years by the UN’s International Telecommunications Union.

Forty-four percent of developing and transition countries have plans for telecoms expansion, while a further 20 percent are currently devising them, the UNCTAD report said.

However, it was not just enough for governments to develop these strategies. They also need to monitor their implementation to ensure they are as effective as possible, the UN body concluded.

Filed under:

Comments are closed.