The lives of the majority of the world’s people remain largely untouched by the digital revolution, states the World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends, published by the World Bank in January 2016. Globally 60 per cent of the world’s population has no access to the internet; only around 15 per cent can afford access to broadband internet. Mobile phones, reaching almost four-fifths of the world’s people, provide the main form of internet access in developing countries.
But even then, nearly 2 billion people do not own a mobile phone. The lowest mobile penetration is in sub-Saharan Africa (73 percent), against 98 per cent in high-income countries. Worse off is the internet access, whereby only 31 per cent of the population in developing countries had access in 2014, against 80 per cent in high-income countries.
Adoption gaps between rural and urban populations are increasing for the internet
The digital divide within countries can be as high as that between countries. Worldwide, nearly 21 per cent of households in the bottom 40 per cent of their countries’ income distribution don’t have access to a mobile phone, and 71 per cent don’t have access to the internet. Adoption gaps between the bottom 40 per cent and the top 60 per cent and between rural and urban populations are falling for mobile phones but increasing for the internet. In Africa, the digital divide across demographic groups remains considerable. Women are less likely than men to use or own digital technologies. Gaps are even larger between youth and those more than 45 years old.
Expansion of opportunity for the poor has been less than expected
Digital technologies can promote inclusion, efficiency, and innovation. More than 40 per cent of adults in East Africa pay their utility bills using a mobile phone. There are eight million entrepreneurs in China—one-third of them women—who use an e-commerce platform to sell goods nationally and export to 120 countries. India has provided unique digital identification to nearly one billion people in five years, and increased access and reduced corruption in public services. And in public health services, simple SMS messages have proven effective in reminding people living with HIV to take their lifesaving drugs.
But despite these 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, according to the report.
(The World Bank/ile)