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A new report warns developing countries are falling behind in broadband access and that this is hampering their economic development. The report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, says mobile phone use is growing rapidly, while the gap in the availability of broadband Internet is widening between the developed and developing worlds.
The report finds mobile and Internet use continues to expand rapidly in most countries and regions. Although mobile phone subscriptions are increasing in developing countries, it says Internet use is lagging behind.
UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Petko Draganov says this puts poor countries at a great disadvantage. "Business growth is vital for creating jobs in developing countries and for lifting people out of poverty. And, when we talk about development, clearly we have to consider how the world's poorer nations can access and use information and communication technologies to make their businesses more competitive. In today's world, what we call knowledge-based economy, this is, I think, indispensable," he said.
On a positive note, the report finds that, at the end 2008, there were about four billion mobile subscriptions, worldwide. It says, in the past six years, mobile phone subscriptions have grown faster in Africa than in any other region of the world - with subscriptions surging from 54 million to almost 350 million.
It says mobile phone growth is occurring everywhere, despite the economic downturn. At the same time, it notes the widening broadband gap is becoming a serious handicap for companies in many poor countries.
The report finds a company in a developed country is 200 times more likely to have access to broadband than one based in a least-developed country. It says Africa is lagging behind the rest of the world. Furthermore, it says the cost of using broadband is far more expensive in low-income countries than in wealthier ones.
Draganov says this puts companies in poor countries at a clear disadvantage, compared with competitors in countries with faster and cheaper access to the Internet. "Studies in developed countries show that broadband users are much more likely to use the Internet and use it in ways that can help save both costs and time. By contrast, in most developing countries, relatively few companies, so far, use the Internet for business transactions," he said.
The report says 90 percent broadband use in Africa is found in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, South Africa and Tunisia. And, it says these economies are among those that have achieved the greatest improvements since 2003.
The report says Sub-Saharan Africa lacks the mesh of undersea fiber optic cables needed for international broadband access. It says these cables are critical for connecting Africa with the global economy.
The report says the fastest growing broadband markets are found in large emerging economies. It says China is the world's single largest broadband market, followed by the United States.