Almost four billion of the world’s population do not have any Internet access, nearly two billion do not have a mobile phone and 400 million people still live outside the range of mobile cellular signals.
The number offline with no Internet access and unable to participate fully in the digital economy is almost 60 per cent of the world’s population.
According to a new World Bank report, the ever wide digital divide is one reason why the Internet, mobile phones and other digital technologies are having less impact on driving growth, producing more jobs and better public services though digital technologies spreading rapidly throughout developing countries.
According to the “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends”, while information and communications technology have benefitted people and governments by reducing the costs of economic and social transactions and lowering information cost, the development impacts have fallen short.
“Although there are many individual success stories, the effect of technology on global productivity, expansion of opportunity for the poor and middle class, and the spread of accountable governance has so far been less than expected. Digital technologies are spreading rapidly, but digital dividends – growth, jobs and services – have lagged behind”, the World Bank said.
“Making the Internet universally accessible and affordable thus remains an urgent priority”, the report says while also noting that the internet needs to be open and safe.
“We must continue to connect everyone and leave no one behind because the cost of lost opportunities is enormous. But for digital dividends to be widely shared among all parts of society, countries also need to improve their business climate, invest in people’s education and health, and promote good governance,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim was quoted as saying.
The second problem is the absence of accountable institutions which the report says is offsetting the benefits of digital technologies, amplifying the voice of elites and giving them greater control.
“New jobs are being created, but the automation of mid-level jobs has contributed to a hollowing out of the labour market. And because the economics of the internet favour natural monopolies, the absence of a competitive business environment is resulting in more concentrated markets, benefiting incumbent firms.”
“Not surprisingly, the better educated, the well connected, and the more capable have received most of the benefits – and the gains from the digital revolution have not been widely shared.”
The report calls for competitive telecom markets, public-private partnership and effective regulation of information and communication technologies.
By Emmanuel Odonkor