Publication Date

December 2003

This report traces global, regional, and local trends in access to information and communication technologies (ICTs). It is an analysis of information from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); data is for 1999-2002 for 200 of the world's economies covering 99.98% of the world's population. 7 indicators are included: the number of Internet users (estimated), personal computers, main telephone lines in operation, cellular mobile telephone subscribers, television receivers, cable television subscribers, and home satellite antennas.

Excerpts from the chapter follow:

The Global Picture:

Eight key findings sketch the global picture:

  1. growth in ICT diffusion has been dramatic, with cellular mobile telephone subscribers exceeding the number of main telephone lines and with Internet users exceeding the number of personal computers
  2. the largest increases in ICT diffusion are in the most populous countries
  3. some of the fastest rates of growth and most sizeable increases in diffusion are in developing economies
  4. the best penetration rates are still in advanced economies with relatively small populations
  5. the less developed economies still have the poorest ICT penetration rates
  6. despite the dramatic increases in diffusion of ICT in the most populous countries, it is also in these very same countries where most of the work still needs to be done
  7. the largest markets for ICT applications and content are now a mixture of developed and developing economies.
  8. the "divide" in ICT access has narrowed but low income, particularly severely indebted economies in sub-Saharan Africa, still lag considerably.

Regional Profiles:

...The United States and Canada combined ("North America") has the highest number of personal computers, equivalent to 35 percent of the world's personal computers. In 1999, North America also had the highest number of Internet users and cellular mobile telephone subscribers but by 2002, this was no longer the case. By 2002, because of dynamic growth in overall ICT diffusion, the Asia-Pacific region had the highest number not only of Internet users and cellular mobile telephone subscribers but also of main telephone lines, television receivers, and cable television subscribers. Europe takes the lead in terms of the number of home satellite antennas. These three regions - North America, Asia and the Pacific, and Europe - account for at least 60 percent of the global penetration for each device.

In terms of penetration rates, Europe is a distant second to North America with the exception of cellular mobile telephone subscribers where Europe, with a 46 percentrate, nearly matches North America's 48 percent rate. The Asia and the Pacific region, despite its dynamism, actually has a penetration rate below the world average in terms of numbers of Internet users and personal computers. The remaining regions, Latin America and the Caribbean, North Africa and the Middle East, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, have single digit penetration rates for both Internet users and personal computers. A particularly distressing figure is the main telephone line penetration rate in sub-Saharan Africa, which barely improved since 1999 and remains low at 2 percent of its total population and 8 percent of total households.


Four Policy Imperatives

...To promote greater diffusion of ICT it is important, first, to craft the right framework in terms of policy and regulatory environments. The second policy consideration is to develop human capacity in order to encourage individuals to use ICT and enable them to maximize the benefits of having access to ICT. The third is for governments to promote the use of ICT through a national ICT strategy, e-government initiatives, promotion of local content, and the creation of an environment where freedom of communication and expression can prevail. The fourth policy imperative is that international trade plays a very important role in ICT diffusion, and governments must reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers to ICT imports.

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"Global Digital Opportunities: National Strategies of "ICT for Development", by Frederick S. Tipson and Claudia Frittelli, The Markle Foundation.