How wide is the world's digital divide, anyway?

New broadband penetration data shows that the majority of the world has almost no home access to high-speed Internet access; in Africa, for instance, only 2% of homes have broadband. Ars takes a look at the worldwide digital divide.

It's not hard for Americans to work themselves into a lather over the state of broadband in this country, which is improving but still not on par with the 100Mbps fiber lines widely offered in countries like South Korea and Japan. But it's worth taking a step back every once in a while to consider the global picture: much of the world has broadband penetration rates under 20 percent, and the largest single group of countries has penetration rates of between 0 and 5 percent.

The consultants at TeleGeography track broadband deployment in 127 countries and have released a chart that shows world broadband deployments by percentage of households that have service. Out of the 127, only 10 countries are above 80 percent—mostly small places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Denmark, and South Korea. Together, the ten countries in this bracket account for only two percent of the world population.

Fifty-three countries fall into the next two categories, with household penetration rates of between 20 and 80 percent (most are on the lower side of that range).

But it's the final two categories that are most enlightening. 64 countries—just over half of all countries tracked—have broadband penetration rates of under 20 percent (most are in the 0-5 percent category).

Eighty-eight more countries aren't even tracked by TeleGeography, since they have essentially no home broadband deployment at all.

"Broadband represents the most extreme example in the gulf between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'," said TeleGeography Executive Director John Dinsdale. "Less than 2 percent of African households have broadband compared with 68 percent of North American homes."

There's a clear market opportunity here, one that could benefit entrepreneurial ISPs and telecom equipment makers, but there's also the sad realization that a few billion people have no or limited access to the world's most important communications infrastructure. Broadband certainly isn't needed for either happiness or human flourishing, but it's definitely a useful tool.

While the survey tracks home usage, plenty of people without home access can still access the 'Net at home or at an Internet cafe, so the gap between Internet haves and have-nots is not quite as wide as it seems.

Source: ars technica

Tags: Internet

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