Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Connecting everyone to the internet won’t solve the world’s development problems

By 9.30am today I will have skyped Malawi, emailed Ghana, Facebooked Nepal, paid a bill online and used the satnav on my mobile phone. It feels a long time since we first got colour TV at home and, years later, when I accessed the internet using a dial-up modem. When I recalled these moments to my son he yawned. Aged, 19, he doesn’t remember a time before ubiquitous connectivity.

According to a new report from the World Bank, more than 40% of the global population now has internet access. On average, eight in ten people in the developing world own a mobile phone. Even in the poorest 20% of households this number is nearly seven in ten, making cellphones more prevalent than toilets or clean water.

There is no doubt that the world is experiencing a revolution of information and communication technology, bringing about rapid change on a massive scale. But despite great expectations for the power of digital technologies to transform lives around the world it has fallen short and is unevenly distributed, with the most advantages going, as ever, to the wealthy. The World Bank argues that increasing connectivity alone is not going to solve this problem.

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