Internet and Mobile Phones Spur Economic Development
Thursday, August 21, 2008
The digital divide is beginning to close. The flow of digital information ? through mobile phones, text messaging, and the Internet ? is now reaching the world?s masses, even in the poorest countries, bringing with it a revolution in economics, politics, and society.
Extreme poverty is almost synonymous with extreme isolation, especially rural isolation. But mobile phones and wireless Internet end isolation, and will therefore prove to be the most transformative technology of economic development of our time.
The digital divide is ending not through a burst of civic responsibility, but mainly through market forces. Mobile phone technology is so powerful, and costs so little per unit of data transmission, that it has proved possible to sell mobile phone access to the poor. There are now more than 3.3bn subscribers in the world, roughly one for every two people on the planet.
Moreover, market penetration in poor countries is rising sharply. India has around 300mn subscribers, with subscriptions rising by a stunning 8mn or more per month. Brazil now has more than 130mn subscribers, and Indonesia has roughly 120mn. In Africa, which contains the world?s poorest countries, the market is soaring, with more than 280mn subscribers.
Mobile phones are now ubiquitous in villages as well as cities. If an individual does not have a cell phone, they almost surely know someone who does. Probably a significant majority of Africans have at least emergency access to a cell phone, either their own, a neighbour?s, or one at a commercial kiosk.
Even more remarkable is the continuing ?convergence? of digital information: wireless systems increasingly link mobile phones with the Internet, personal computers, and information services of all kinds. The array of benefits is stunning.
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