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Digital divide widens, internet use stalls in low-income nations

According to the latest Digital Progress and Trends Report by the World Bank, only one in four people living in low-income countries are using the Internet, putting societies at major risk of falling behind in technological and socioeconomic development.

Compared to high income nations, where over 90% of the population is using the Internet, the World Bank found that affordability and availability are the most significant factors.

High costs were noted for WIFI enabled devices, such as computers and mobile phones, as well as for the broadband services needed to connect to the Internet.

Weak digital infrastructure leading to inconsistent quality of internet connections as well as overall poor coverage areas and data speeds were also said to be a major issue for low-income users.

In 2023, median fixed and mobile broadband speeds in high-income countries were 10 and 5 times faster, than speeds in low-income countries, the report said.

Internet speeds by region
World Bank 2023 Digital Progress and Trends Report

Add in limited digital skills, perception of relevance, cultural attitudes and lack of digital trust and the barriers become even larger.

Even within those countries the digital divide continues depending on the local government, business, the individua and each home.

Adoption of digital technology can benefit a population through inclusion, job creation, cost reduction in services, innovation, sustainability, and economic growth.

On the flip side, societies that have lagged in adopting digital technologies are at higher risk of inequality, misinformation, market contestability, and lack of data privacy and security to name just a few.

Since the pandemic, high income nations have experienced even faster internet speeds resulting in improved quality of service, and enhanced user experience with more data-intensive applications.

By contrast, in that same pandemic time frame, internet speeds – including upload and download speeds – actually got slower for lower-income nations, the report found.

World Bank 2023 Digital Progress and Trends Report Internet speeds
World Bank 2023 Digital Progress and Trends Report

In 2022, even before the recent jump in world inflation, the average cost for fixed broadband (high speed internet) service in a low income country was equivalent to about one-third of a person’s monthly gross income.

What’s more, even “the cheapest smartphone accounted for more than 14% of a person’s annual income (those living on less than $2 a day).

The World Bank also cited steps that could be taken by governments in low income countries to help “close the use gap of individuals.”

One way is for the governments to help promote affordable entry-level devices for citizens.

This can be done by reducing import duty costs, offering tax exemptions, or direct subsidies although World Bank stresses the importance of basing those reductions on a risk sharing model involving both the government and the person receiving the financial break.

This can be accomplished by creating mutually beneficial programs with device manufacturers, retailers, consumers, app partners, and the governments.

“Fixed broadband connections were available to 38% of the population in high-income countries, and just 4% of the population in lower to middle-income countries,” the World Bank report stressed.

In nations labeled as low-income there was almost zero availability for people to even have a high speed wifi connection.

Nations that fell into the low-income parameters according to the report included Viet Nam, Chile, Poland, Korea, Brazil, Georgia, India, Kenya, Cambodia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Burkina, Faso, Bangladesh, and Senegal.

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