The report examines key developments in the information and communication
technology (ICT) and telecommunications sector including trends and challenges
in the world’s poorest countries in the period 2001 to 2005. ITU’s findings
reveal that considerable progress has been made to bridge the digital divide and
that teledensity targets set by the Brussels Programme of Action (BPoA) have
been met by 25 of the 50 LDCs.
The ITU report was unveiled during a special session on "Integrating Least
Developed Countries (LDCs) into the world economy through telecommunications/ICT"
held during the Mid-Term Review on implementation of the Brussels Programme
of Action for Least Developed Countries for the decade 2001-2010.
According to ITU, teledensity has more than doubled in the majority of least
developed countries since 2000 with some of them boosting connectivity by as
much as 20 times, thanks to rapid growth in the deployment of mobile
technologies. The race towards universal access in LDCs has been mainly led by
Small Island Developing States such as Cape Verde, Maldives and Samoa and small
to average sized countries such as Gambia, Lesotho, and Mauritania, some of
which have achieved teledensities of up to 44 lines per 100 inhabitants
surpassing many developing countries.
Growth driven by ICT: mobile and internet
"The mobile sector in LDCs has grown considerably against fixed lines over
the last few years, and the number of mobile subscribers almost doubled in
2005", explained Cosmas Zavazava, Head of ITU’s Unit for Least Developed
Countries, Small Island Developing States and Emergency Telecommunications. "It
recorded a significant annual growth of 82 per cent from 2000 to 2005, compared
with 12 per cent in the fixed-line sector". According to ITU statistics, least
developed countries with the highest annual growth rate in terms of cellular
subscribers over the period 2000-2005 were Djibouti (186%), Democratic Republic
of Congo (184%),
Niger (171%), Liberia (155%), Mali (142%), Sudan (139%), Yemen (129%) and Lao P.D.R. (119%). Prepaid services, accounting for almost 90 per cent of the entire
market, have contributed to the explosive expansion of the mobile sector in LDCs.
In Afghanistan, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Haiti, Somalia and Niger all mobile
subscriptions were prepaid.
Overall, access to the internet has increased and more interest is on
deployment of broadband services in rural areas. By 2005, internet user
penetration caught up with fixed line penetration in LDCs, providing access to a
host of applications, such as e-education, e-health, e-business, e-agriculture,
and e-government. In terms of internet penetration, a number of countries have
reached penetration rates of around five percent, including Maldives (5.8%),
Cape Verde and Togo (both 4.9%), and Senegal (4.6%). Although the majority of
LDCs have not yet launched high-speed internet services, popular demand is
encouraging more countries to upgrade from dial-up internet connections to
broadband. For instance, by 2005, over 89 per cent of all internet subscribers
in Senegal were DSL subscribers, compared with 70 per cent in the Maldives, 17
per cent in Cape Verde and 2 per cent in Lao P.D.R.
Despite recent progress, LDCs continue to face major challenges. Rapid
developments in the LDC telecommunications marketplace require new directions to
be taken by policymakers and regulators. Many established policies and
regulations have become obsolete, leading to inefficient and increasingly
untenable restrictions and barriers to the development and dissemination of the
benefits of IP convergence. Policy makers and regulators must therefore forge a
transition path away from the old regulations that may have served a useful
purpose in the past, but are today barriers to progress.
Equally challenging is the task of developing an appropriate policy and
regulatory framework that will help realize the full benefits of internet
protocol (IP) convergence. In many LDCs policy changes are required that would
provide regulators with flexible tools to implement the transition to new
network development opportunities and attract investor financial flows into the
The scarcity of ICT infrastructure, the high cost of international bandwidth,
the dearth of relevant local content along with the lack of cooperation among
development partners and political instability also remain daunting challenges.
"What is really encouraging is the fact that there is incredible enthusiasm
among LDCs to be part of the Information Society. This, coupled with the
emergence of new, low cost and affordable technologies, especially wireless,
will hasten the pace towards universal access", affirmed Zavazava.
At the special session ITU outlined activities during the next five years
that would include assistance to at least twenty more LDCs in the following
- Development of ICT
infrastructure and introduction of new technologies
- Rural telecommunication
development to promote universal access
- Implementation of projects
in e-services and applications
- Development of appropriate
legal, regulatory and policy regimes
- Integration of ICT in
emergency communications for enhanced disaster preparedness
For highlights of ITU’s success stories in Least Developed Countries and
Small Island Developing States, click