Photo: Visualization of Internet routing paths. Wikimedia Commons - Photo: 2016

ESCAP Uncovers the Widening Broadband Divide

By Rakesh Jayawardene

NEW DELHI (IDN) – Despite the widely reported phenomenal growth in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in the Asia-Pacific region, a new study by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), has found that broadband capabilities and access are highly concentrated in East and North-East Asia. GERMAN | HINDI | JAPANESE | SPANISH

The report titled, State of ICT in Asia and the Pacific 2016: Uncovering the Widening Broadband Divide, also confirms that the gap between advanced and developing countries in fixed broadband access is indeed widening, and unless targeted policy interventions are put in place, the trend will continue to the detriment of future development opportunities.

The Report finds that according to 2015 data, 74.89 per cent of total fixed broadband subscriptions in Asia and the Pacific are concentrated in East and North-East Asia, followed by South and South-West Asia (9.77 per cent), North and Central Asia (7.68 per cent), South-East Asia (5.74 per cent) and the Pacific (1.93 per cent).

Findings indicate that over 52.3 per cent of global fixed broadband subscribers now come from ESCAP member States, a dramatic increase from 2005 when the region constituted only 38.1 per cent.

The Report also found that in 2015, less than 2 per cent of the population had adopted fixed broadband in as many as 20 countries in Asia and the Pacific, widening the digital divide between high-income and low-income countries at an alarming speed.

United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Dr. Shamshad Akhtar underlined that broadband connectivity is a critical foundation for the digital economy and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in Asia-Pacific, and that ESCAP is working with member States to improve broadband access for countries in the region.

“As a result of this digital divide, millions of people are shut out from transformative digital opportunities in education, health, business and financial services,” said Dr. Akhtar. She also stressed that broadband connectivity is vital for the digital economy and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the region.

“In response to the widening gap, ESCAP is promoting the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative, to increase the availability and affordability of broadband Internet across Asia and the Pacific, by strengthening the underlying Internet infrastructure in the region,” she added.

In particular, the Report shows that e-commerce strongly correlates with access to fixed broadband connectivity, suggesting that enhancing ICT infrastructure connectivity would increase business-to-business e-commerce in the region. The Report also examined emerging trends in developing online content, differential patterns of mobile broadband expansion and usage, as well as the impact of regulatory quality and investment in broadband adoption.

The study findings will serve as the basis for the inaugural ESCAP Committee on ICT, Science, Technology and Innovation to be held from October 5 to 7 2016 in Bangkok.

“The importance of the report lies in the fact that the digital technology has been fundamentally transforming not only the way we interact in society and the economy, but also the way the development paradigm is evolving,” says the report.

The Global Information Technology Report 2016, published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in July 2016, highlights that the digital revolution is changing the nature of innovation, which is increasingly based on the digital technology and associated new business models.

Encouraging businesses to embrace the power of the digital technology, therefore, should be an imperative of governments. This requires, among others, the right governance frameworks to anticipate the impact of emerging technologies and react quickly to changing circumstances due to new economic and social dynamics.

The WEF report concludes that the role of technology, broadband in particular, is critical to drive growth and enable collaborative innovation in many areas, from production to processes. [IDN-InDepthNews – 30 July 2016]

Photo: Visualization of Internet routing paths. Wikimedia Commons

This article is part of IDN’s media project jointly with Global Cooperation Council and DEVNET Japan.

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