Broadband Connectivity and the Digital Gap in Asia
By admin August 24, 2016

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 (UN: Tuenjai Chuabsamai/ ESCAP)

There has been reported phenomenal growth in information and communication technology (ICT) in the Asia Pacific region, with over 52.3 percent of global fixed broadband subscribers coming from United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) member states in 2015 as compared to the 38.1 percent in 2005. Despite, a stark gap still remains between advanced and developing countries in fixed broadband access. A new study by ESCAP has found that broadband capabilities and access are highly concentrated in East and North-East Asia. An estimated 75 percent of total fixed broadband subscriptions in Asia and the Pacific are concentrated in the East and North East Asia, mainly driven by China.  South and South West Asia follows at around 10 percent, North and Central Asia at under eight percent, South East Asia at six percent, and the Pacific just under 2 percent. Even more, in 20 countries of Asia and the Pacific, less than two percent of the population had adopted fixed broadband. This gap is alarming in its significance as it represents failed and missed opportunities in economic growth, job creation, and overall social inclusion, factors that measure in on achieving the SGDs.

Broadband connectivity is a critical foundation for the economy as digital technology is today’s basis for innovation and associated new business models, from production to processes. ICT has permeated the world, providing updated and instant information to people in even the most remote areas in the world. Alongside enabling all modern communication, ICT enables people to innovate with the simple conditions that they have a computer and the Internet. Moreover, broadband enabled technology has made generally crude processes more efficient, such as energy distribution, water management and disease management. This is particularly important for developing countries that are economically disadvantaged which are responsible for marginalized citizens.

Access to the digital world is a catalyst for growth, so it makes sense that a digital divide would equate to a socioeconomic divide. Without broadband connectivity, millions of people are shut out of transformative opportunities in education, health, business and financial services, widening the wealth gap even further. Thus, initiatives towards building a strong economy and society are based on the premise that reliable, affordable, and robust connectivity exist.

The report also shows that countries lagging behind have generally focused on broadband access expansion over delivering online content and improving service development. While access to digital services is the first step, making the most use of the existing resources should happen concurrently. Another trend the report found was that the telecommunications investment seemed to be correlated with fixed broadband subscription more strongly than with mobile broadband. Finally, the report also shows that a weak regulatory framework may be associated with slow broadband adoption. The response to the broadband gap is the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS) initiative is to increase the availability and affordability of broadband Internet across Asia and the Pacific by strengthening the underlying Internet infrastructure in the region. However, government will need to work internally to ensure that access to broadband is equitable.

For more information:

Alarming disparity in broadband connectivity within Asia-Pacific, UN regional study finds

State of ICT in Asia and the Pacific 2016

Digital landscape of Southeast Asia in Q4 2015

The future of broadband in South-East Asia

Unleashing the Potential of the Internet for ASEAN Economies

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