…As Deepening Digital Divide Threatens World’s Least Developed Countries
Not less than two-thirds of the Least Developed Countries’ (LDC) population remains unconnected to the internet according to a new report by International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
This represent over 720 million people who lacks internet connectivity in this region. According to the research, which uses data from ITU’s Facts and Figures 2022, an estimated 407 million people in LDCs were using the Internet in 2022.
The ITU data in special edition of ‘Facts and Figures: Focus on Least Developed Countries’ show a decade of halting progress on connectivity for the world’s poorest.
The 720 million people still offline in LDCs represent 27 per cent of the global offline population, even though the LDC population accounts for only 14 per cent of world population.
While the share of the population in LDCs using the Internet has increased since 2011 from 4 per cent to 36 per cent, about two-thirds of the LDC population remains offline. Least Developed Countries also still face numerous barriers to meaningful connectivity, including lack of infrastructure, affordability, and skills.
The study highlights that only 83 per cent of the combined LDC population is covered by a mobile broadband signal 3G or above, the main way to connect to the Internet in most developing countries. This compares with 95 per cent coverage for the overall world population.
ITU also states that as the digital connectivity divide separating the globe’s least developed countries (LDCs) from the world as a whole shows no sign of narrowing, internet is more costly in LDCs than anywhere else in the world.
Although no single figure can capture all aspects and complexities of the digital divide, the gap between LDCs and the world in the share of people using the Internet has actually increased from 27 percentage points in 2011 to 30 percentage points in 2022.
According to ITU, the challenge of getting communities online has also become more complex over the last decade than just constructing physical connections.
For LDCs, the goal of universal and meaningful connectivity – when a safe, satisfying, enriching, productive and affordable online experience is available to all – remains a distant prospect. Even many of those who can access the Internet do not, because of the barriers ranging from awareness, to skills, to costs.
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Among other findings, ITU noted that the digital gender gap in LDCs remains significant and is not narrowing, although almost half of the young people in LDCs (15-to 24-year-olds) were online in 2022 and just over a quarter of the population in rural areas in LDCs was online in 2022.
“The ITU special report reveals the tremendous digital diversity of LDCs, which implies different priorities and calls for different solutions,” said Cosmas Zavazava, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau.
“The world’s least developed countries are the planet’s greatest untapped resource. Connectivity – in particular meaningful connectivity – can contribute to addressing the challenges faced by Least Developed Countries and help them achieve sustainable digital transformation.”
“The path to prosperity for the world’s least developed countries runs through digital development,” said ITU Secretary-General Doreen Bogdan-Martin.
The ITU study, prepared ahead of the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC5), focuses on trends in digital connectivity in LDCs since 2011, when the UN last held its global conference on least developed countries.