The importance of new information and communications technologies (ICT) in development has long been emphasized, as they are changing the way companies do business, are democratizing innovation and help transforming public service delivery. ICT sector is seen as a solution for reducing poverty around the globe allowing impoverished people to gain access to banking, medical services, and market information, isolation being one of the causes of poverty. New information and communications technologies are of great importance also in the transfer of knowledge.
Despite their key role in development, ICT programmes hit against the limitations of existing telecom infrastructure in developing countries. Another issue is the businesses’ lack of capacity to assess returns and costs of using ICT, as well as other limitations such as the shortage of skills in ICT sector and inability to retain ICT-skilled labor. However, new statistics by the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU) show some significant growth when it comes to Internet users, as well as Internet penetration. The report estimates nearly three billion Internet users globally, by end 2014, with two-thirds coming from the developing world.
“Broadband connectivity is a critical element today in ensuring that information and communication technologies are used as effective delivery vehicles for health, education, governance, trade and commerce in order to achieve sustainable socio-economic growth,” said Hamadoun I. Touré, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in his message on the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (celebrated on May 17).
Only about one-fifth of the population in Africa will have access to Internet by the end of the year, while Americas will have nearly two-thirds of the population with Internet access. As for the mobile-broadband penetration, 55 per cent of the total 2.3 billion subscriptions globally are expected to be in the developing world by the end of 2014. The report also reveals the mobile-broadband remains the fastest growing market segment, with double-digits growth rates in 2014. The fastest growth has been registered by Africa, from 2 percent growth rate in 2010 to almost 20 per cent this year. However, people from developing countries make up for more than 90 per cent of those 4 billion who are not yet using the Internet.
The mobile-cellular market has taken significant upsurge as the number of subscriptions globally will almost equal the world’s population reaching 7 billion by the end of 2014. Developing countries will count for 75 per cent of the users.
“Behind these numbers and statistics are real human stories. The stories of people whose lives have improved thanks to ICTs,” said Brahima Sanou, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, adding “our mission is to bring ICTs into the hands of ordinary people, wherever they live. By measuring the information society, we can track progress, or identify gaps, towards achieving socio-economic development for all.”
The statistics reveal also market segments that are lagging behind such as fixed-telephone penetration which registered a decline in the number of users for the last five years. The estimates show about 100 million fewer fixed-telephone subscriptions at the end of this year than in 2009.
Although it is almost commonly accepted ICT are a powerful tool in development by extending economic opportunities to millions of people, there are also concerns regarding the expanding access to ICT such as its environmental implications, and regarding the need for a greater attention for the cultural and institutional barriers in the context where ICTs are implemented, which all need to be considered more thoroughly.