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Digital Divide Growing into Chasm, Warns UN

Asian boy on oxen back using a laptop - digital divide growing

Countries with fast internet see their internet speeds growing faster, while countries with slow internet speeds are staying stagnant. This is a major difference in internet technology between developed countries and developing countries, which can have a bold impact on the way a country can develop especially in the areas of education, health, and agriculture.

Unfortunately, the current state of internet access in developing and underdeveloped countries is usually the least of a country’s concerns. There are other more urgent items for many governments…

What bothers the United Nations is that the disparity between the internet haves and the have-nots seem to be growing. This was the gist of “State of Broadband,” the annual global broadband progress report from the UN. In the same report, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) stated that 52% of the world’s population does not have access to the internet. In Europe, 76% of the population has internet access, while only 21.8% of the people in Africa do.

In terms of speed, South Korea has the fastest internet speed, at around 28.6 mbps. The average speed for all countries is 7.2 mbps; this is the sustained throughput for an internet service. Higher burst speeds of up to 184 mbps have been reported in Singapore. In contrast, Nigeria has and other developing countries struggle with 1.5 mbps, which has not changed since the previous year’s report.

Countries with mature information and communications technology (ICT) have service providers measuring up to provide even faster service. With major companies competing, there is a rapid increase in the actual throughput consumers experience. Typically, the service for companies are faster than that for residential users.

In most developed countries, the infrastructure for copper cables and fiber optic installations needed to achieve higher internet speeds do not yet exist. Without these, reaching remote rural areas would not be possible.


The internet is an important indicator of a country’s growth. Internet access has become a key indicator for other social goals. A country’s social goals would be helped by an efficient and fast internet access for its citizens. Internet resources can help in agriculture, fisheries, education, and health. Sustainable agriculture and better health increase with internet access for a large percentage of the population. As such, improved information technology (IT) capabilities can help bring information to rural citizens, who need it as much as their urban counterparts do.

Unfortunately, the current state of internet access in developing and underdeveloped countries is usually the least of a country’s concerns. There are other more urgent items for many governments, including power generation, telecommunications (including phone lines and access to international backbone), and food production.

The positive effects of internet access could not be discounted. Among other things, it can be used by educators to research on their materials. It can also be used by the students to learn things to augment or supplement what they are learning in the classroom. These all depend on the speed of the internet in a particular country.

With stagnant growth and access for only a limited number of people, the internet’s potential to democratize education is small. Investments in communication and IT are needed for these countries to catch up with the rest of the world. Doing so would have a bold impact on the lives of their citizens, as well as their economic and social development.

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