ITU

ITU’s approach to digital inclusion of all

About half the world’s people are connected to the Internet. The other half are not. The majority of the unconnected live in the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states. At current growth rates, every year, there are some 195 million new Internet users, but substantial digital divides persist between more and less connected countries, communities, and people.

Overview

  • With efficient and affordable information and communicatio n technology (ICT) infrastructure and services, and the right digital, language and soft skills like teamwork, individuals and businesses can participate in the digital economy. This, in turn, allows countries to increase their overall economic well-being and competitiveness.
  • People and communities that are connected are empowered. They can access information, online health services and life-saving disaster warnings. They can pay for goods and services via mobile phones, stay in touch with loved ones, increase productivity or perform better-paid jobs that require digital skills.
  • Connecting all the world´s people to the Internet — and removing digital divides — remains a challenge that needs to be addressed if the world community is to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Challenges

Substantial digital divides persist between countries. Indeed, 84.4 per cent of households in developed countries had Internet access at home in 2016, compared with 42.9 per cent in developing countries and just 14.7 per cent in least developed countries.

Digital divides are also evident within countries. Men, urban residents and young people are more likely to be online than women, rural dwellers and older people. The digital gender gap is relatively small in developed countries, more pronounced in developing countries and substantial in least developed countries.

Divides often stem from insufficient or slow connectivity, the cost of connection and a lack of relevant content in local languages. These barriers are therefore often related to age, gender, disability, socioeconomic status and geography.

Solutions

Efficient and affordable ICT infrastructure and services, combined with enabling policy and regulatory environments, allow businesses and governments to participate in the digital economy and countries to increase their overall economic well-being and competitiveness. Some 20 countries have made Internet access a fundamental or citizen right.

The global harmonization of mobile spectrum by ITU, together with the development of common international standards, has resulted in economies of scale leading to the reduction of prices of services and devices for both networks and end-users.

Mobile technology is rapidly migrating from 2G — second-generation of mobile technologies — to 3G to 4G, with 4G networks representing around 30 per cent of total Internet connections. Developed countries’ initial adoption of 5G networks is expected to exacerbate the current digital divide, as developing countries are likely to take longer to implement 5G networks. Developing countries can, however, use existing ecosystems and networks to provide universal and affordable access to ICTs. Mobile networks can be gradually upgraded once the challenges to developing a sustainable 5G system have been overcome.

Satellite services provide fixed and mobile services throughout the world. The global harmonization of mobile spectrum by ITU, together with the development of common international standards, has resulted in economies of scale leading to the reduction of prices of services and devices for both networks and end-users.

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