People living in the poorest countries in the
world are benefiting from a ‘mobile cellular miracle’ which has
seen access to voice and simple data connectivity rise from an LDC
average of 1.2% of the population to almost 30% in just ten years,
according to figures released by ITU at the LDC IV conference this
This steep rise in phone connectivity far
exceeds the targets set out in the LDC III Brussels Programme of
Action, which called for average telephone density in LDCs to reach
5% by 2011.
The democratization and
rapid spread of mobile cellular technology – which, in 2001, was
still considered the province of people in wealthy countries – has
transformed the ICT landscape in the world’s 48 UN-designated
Least Developed Countries,
bringing connectivity to almost 250 million people in LDCs.
ITU’s latest analysis of
strategies to boost ICT penetration and leverage this to accelerate
development in other economic and social sectors was also released at
the conference, in the form of two new reports: ICTs
Telecommunications in Least Developed Countries
Role of ICT in Advancing Growth in Least Developed Countries.
ITU figures confirm that while the number of
fixed lines has barely risen in LDCs over the past decade, reflecting
global trends, mobile access has mushroomed, with cumulative annual
growth rates over the past five years of 42.6% in LDCs compared to
just 7.1% in developed countries.
In 2009, only a tiny handful of LDCs –
Myanmar, Kiribati, Eritrea and Ethiopia – still had mobile
penetration below the LDC III target of 5% – and that number is
expected to shrink further by mid-2010.
But still far too few Internet users in LDCs
The past decade has also seen significant
progress in getting people in LDCs online, with 2.5% average Internet
penetration by the end of 2010, compared to under 0.3% in 2001. But
that is nothing like enough, according to ITU Secretary-General Dr
Hamadoun Touré, and remains well below the Brussels III target of
“People ask me if Internet
penetration is really such a high priority for people who, on a daily
basis, face a lack of safe drinking water, rising food prices, and a
chronic shortage of healthcare,” said Dr Touré. “My answer is a
resounding ‘yes’. Because the Internet – and especially
broadband – is an extraordinary enabler which has potential to
massively expand the effective delivery of vital services, such as
healthcare and education. Nowhere is this more important than in
countries where people are chronically deprived of these services”.