Africa’s Internet divide

If you live in Africa and feel that your access to that speedy Internet is costing you a fortune, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has news for you: yes indeed, you are paying a hefty price.

ICTs can become key enablers for achieving international and national development goals

A report recently published by the ITU confirms that the continent is the world’s most expensive place for access to broadband Internet connections.

Access and costs of broadband Internet are two of the indicators that explain the continent’s poor showing on the latest ICT Development Index, which ranks 157 countries based on their performance.

The ITU report, entitled Measuring the Information Society, is the fifth in a series published by the UN agency since 2009.

It tracks ICT developments and analyses, its costs and affordability in what amounts to “a performance evaluation.”

Despite some progress in a number of African countries, none of them feature among the top 50 on the index.

Seychelles, the best performer on the continent, ranks 67th on the index.

Thirty of the continent’s 55 countries surveyed are part of the 39 least connected countries, (home to 2.4 billion people) with particularly low levels of ICT development.

Unsurprisingly, most of the least connected countries are also lagging behind in efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

The authors of the report argue that “ICTs can become key enablers for achieving international and national development goals and have the greatest development impact, and more policy attention needs to be directed towards them.”

Across Africa, a divide is emerging, according to the report.

Some countries (Seychelles, Mauritius, Cape Verde and South Africa) have recently seen positive trends: greater ICT access and lower costs of ICT services.

Three countries (Seychelles, Zambia and Zimbabwe) even rank among the 20 most dynamic countries over the past two years.

ICT development has taken a greater leap there.

Between them and some others (Central Africa Republic, Burkina Faso, Guinea or Ethiopia), the ICT divide is widening.

In this category of countries, access to the latest ICT services (including broadband Internet access and 3G telephone networks) remains a challenge.

Mixed global trends

At the global level, positive trends in the developed world obscure less encouraging signs in developing countries.

In the space of four years, prices for fixed broadband service dropped by an impressive 82%, the report notes.

While the Republic of Korea scored high on the ICT Development Index (8.57%), Niger came in at only 0.99% – within the possible (theoretical) range of 0 to 10. This measurement revealed huge differences in ICT access, use and skills.

By the end of 2013 there will be 6.8 billion mobile/cellular subscriptions – almost as many as there are people on the planet.

But only around half of the world’s population – and a minority in Africa – lives within reach of a 3G network, which provides high-speed access to mobile Internet.

Similarly, use of the internet continues to skyrocket in the developed world but lags elsewhere.

More than 250 million people became Internet users over the last year, and almost 40 per cent of the world’s population (an estimated 2.7 billion people) will be using the Internet by the end of 2013.

In developed countries, numbers are so high that the ITU now predicts that the double digit growth noted in recent years will slow down significantly.

In the world’s least developed countries, however, the estimate is for fewer than one in ten people to be using the Internet by end 2013.

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