Bridging Digital Divides
Globally, over 1 billion new Internet users have been added over the last five years. Yet under half the world’s people (3.7 billion) do not use the Internet. Many of them live in least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs), and small island developing states (SIDS).
According to the latest ITU data, 87% of people are using the Internet in developed countries, compared with 44% in developing countries. While virtually all urban areas in the world are covered by a mobile-broadband network, worrying gaps in connectivity and Internet access persist in rural areas. Globally, 72% of households in urban areas has access to the Internet at home, almost twice as much as in rural areas (38%).
Connectivity gaps in rural areas are especially serious in LDCs, where 17% of the rural population live in areas with no mobile coverage at all, and 19% of the rural population is covered by only a 2G network.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing digital divides between and within countries related to age, disability, gender, geography and socioeconomic status. With many essential services pushed online, there is a real and present danger that those without broadband Internet access could be left ever further behind.
For many people in the developing world, especially in LDCs, mobile telephony and Internet access remain unaffordable. The cost of broadband Internet access remains above the affordability target set by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development – namely, 2% of monthly gross national income (GNI) per capita for a number of LDCs.
According to ITU’s latest data, in 84 or nearly half of the analysed set of countries, the cost of the data-only mobile-broadband remains above the 2% target, while fixed broadband access is unaffordable in 111 countries (56%).
This means that children and young people from the poorest households, rural and lower income states are falling even further behind their peers in terms of digital inclusion and are left with fewer opportunities to catch up, facing disproportionate exposure to poverty and unemployment.
Assessing investment requirements to bring about affordable universal connectivity is important to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In some regions, bridging the connectivity gap means mainly upgrading existing coverage and capacity sites. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and East Asia/Pacific, nearly half of the necessary radio access network (RAN) infrastructure investments will be greenfield. https://www.itu.int/en/mediacentre/backgrounders/Pages/digital-inclusion-of-all.aspx
We are also fully aware that the benefits of the information technology revolution are today unevenly distributed between the developed and developing countries and within societies. We are fully committed to turning this digital divide into a digital opportunity for all, particularly for those who risk being left behind and being further marginalized. https://www.itu.int/net/wsis/docs/geneva/official/dop.html
First Phase of the WSIS (10-12 December 2003, Geneva) Geneva Declaration of Principles