Close the digital divide by going straight through to mobile broadband

by Rashmee

Posted on January 29, 2015

mobile_wholesaleHow best to close the digital divide, especially if you’re a developing country with finite resources and a lot of mouths to feed? India, Afghanistan, Haiti come to mind – each is at a different stage of development, but each is definitely not part of the developed world

Bjorn Lomborg, an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, suggests that they’re best off leap-frogging the developed world by going straight to mobile broadband. This would allow them to “avoid the need for expensive fiber-optic cables for the last mile’ – or access point – of the network,” he writes.

That makes eminently good sense. Mobile telephony is increasingly making old-style fixed infrastructure unnecessary. As the professor points out, three-quarters of internet users in China get online via mobile phones. That figure rises to four out of five in Ethiopia and Uganda.

He quotes a new analysis by Emmanuelle Auriol and Alexia Lee González Fanfalone of the Toulouse School of Economics. They calculate the cost of increasing mobile broadband about three-fold in developing regions – from 21% to 60%. It will take $1.3 trillion and will establish about three billion more Internet connections.

But, writes Professor Lomborg, “it will also increase GDP growth. By 2020, the benefits would be almost $500 billion annually, and would continue to rise each year. Over the coming decades, the total benefit would reach about $22 trillion. As a result, every dollar spent on mobile broadband in the developing world would yield an estimated gain of $17. That looks like a really smart investment.”

(Tomorrow: If it took the digital high road, life in Haiti would improve dramatically)

Rashmee has lived and worked in several countries in the past decade, including Afghanistan, India, Haiti, Tunisia, the UAE, US and UK

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