Digital divide widens even as costs drop globally

Despite advances, India is 119th in connectivity

Updated - November 11, 2016 06:00 am IST

Published - October 12, 2012 12:46 am IST - Addis Ababa

The digital divide between the most and least developed countries — measured in terms of costs, quality and connectivity — continues to grow, according to data released by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

Global broadband prices have dropped nearly 75 per cent between 2008 and 2011, yet the poorest countries, particularly in Africa, continue to have the highest connectivity costs in the world.

“Today the Least Developed Countries [LDCs] are also the LLCs [Least Connected Countries],” said Andrew Rugege, Regional Director of the ITU for Africa, adding that African countries needed to rationalise price regimes and increase investments in information and communication technologies (ICT).

The ITU report, Measuring the Information Society 2012 , ranks 155 countries on the basis of the ICT Development Index, which measures ICT access, use and literacy, and the ICT Price Basket, a country-wise indicator of ICT affordability. South Korea has the most advanced telecommunication infrastructure in the world, while Niger was ranked the worst.

Despite India’s widely reported advances and investments in the telecommunication sector, the country is ranked 119th in the world in the ICT Development Index, below Zimbabwe, Bhutan and Ghana. India fares slightly better in the affordability index, and is ranked 85th out of 161 countries in the ICT Price Basket (IPB) Index.

The IPB index measures communication costs as a percentage of Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, and highlights the tremendous regional disparities in connectivity costs. For instance, the average African mobile user can expect to pay to almost 20 per cent of her monthly income on mobile connectivity costs, compared to the average Asian who would pay less than 10 per cent, while the average European would pay a per-cent-and-a-half.

Astonishing drop

Similarly, fixed broadband services in Africa cost 96 per cent of the average monthly salary in 2011, down from an astonishing 458 per cent of monthly income in 2008, compared to 20 per cent of average monthly salary in Asia.

According to Mr. Rugege, the absence of Internet exchange hubs on the continent means that a significant amount of Internet traffic from Africa is actually exchanged in hubs in Europe, resulting in sharply escalating costs. “We are building regional Internet exchange points [in Africa] to ensure that regional data stays in the region and reduces costs,” he said.

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