United Nations: Digital Divide Widening

By October 23, 2009

The digital divide between developing and developed countries is widening, warns the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in its Information Economy Report 2009: Trends and Outlook in Turbulent Times. While the big questions in Silicon Valley – What's the next Twitter? What do teens really do online? – seem to mark the end of Web 2.0 and its entrance into whatever comes next, many in the world still do not have access to the resource that makes it all possible, broadband. For developed countries like Finland, broadband access is becoming a right; in developing countries, it remains a luxury . . . if even that attainable.

People in developed countries are eight times more likely to have broadband than citizens of developing countries, and while more than half the developed world is online, only 15 percent of people in developing countries are. Someone living in a developed country is more than 200 more times likely to have broadband access than if they lived in some of the least developed nations.

"There is still a long way to go before we can claim to have significantly narrowed the 'digital divide' to achieve an information society for all. Wide gaps in ICT infrastructure remain, not least in the case of broadband networks," UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said in the preface to the organization's report.

People in developing countries also have to contend with higher broadband prices and lower bandwidth. The highest price for broadband access is paid by people in Burkina Faso, where broadband costs over $1,300 a month.

A lot of positive efforts have been made in the mobile sphere, but let’s be realistic. First-world countries are already switching to smart phone computing, so the development of cell-phone-based infrastructures in developing countries, while an important one, leaves them still far behind.

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