18 November 2008 Overcoming the “digital divide” between the poorest countries and developed economies in Asia and the Pacific is the focus of a two-day meeting organized by the United Nations regional office in Bangkok that kicked off today.
Despite significant progress made by the region in utilizing information and communication technology (ICT), such as the rapid growth of mobile phone subscriptions, a significant disparity remains in access to the Internet between high-income and low-income countries.
The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has gathered a group of ICT experts from governments, academia, the UN, other international organizations and the private sector – including Microsoft – to discuss measures for breaking down barriers to Internet access in the poorer countries, especially through infrastructure development.
An ESCAP study noted that both mobile phone and Internet use in the region had increased substantially in the past five years, with the number of South Asian phone subscribers ballooning by 700 per cent between 2000 and 2007 and 400 per cent in Central Asia.
Growth is even faster in the poorest countries of the region. As a group the least developed countries have seen the number of mobile phone subscribers increase by close to 800 per cent.
The gap between rich and poor nations in Internet access, however, has widened over the same period of time. The five most web-connected countries in the region – New Zealand, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Singapore and Malaysia – have between 55 per cent and 80 per cent of their populations connected to the web.
By contrast, in the bottom five countries on the scale – Myanmar, Timor-Leste, Tajikistan, Bangladesh and Cambodia – less than 1 per cent of the population has access to the Internet, and the average for the Asia-Pacific region as a whole is 20 per cent.
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