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Countries Must Cross the Digital Divide

Despite the digital divide, technology continues to play a vital role in helping countries develop.
Photo Credit: Mercy Corps Azerbaijan
Shahlar Agalarov, Vice Director of the Society of Internally Displaced People in Azerbaijan, displays the computers donated to his NGO by Mercy Corps. Photo Credit: Mercy Corps Azerbaijan

Developing countries' shares in technology exports are continuing to grow but the digital divide remains, says a UN report released yesterday (6 February).

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report, 'Science and technology for development: the new paradigm of ICT', explores the role of information communication technology (ICT) in enhancing innovation in developing countries and confirms its influence on development.

The report finds that developing countries' shares in ICT exports increased from four per cent to 28 per cent between 1995 and 2005, and is continuing to grow.

"South-South trade in ICTs is overtaking trade between developed and developing, and between developed and developed, countries," Susan Teltscher, chief of the ICT Policy and Analysis Unit at UNCTAD, said at the launch.

UNCTAD used data from the International Telecommunication Union's World Telecommunication/ICT indicators to estimate ICT penetration rates for the developing world in 2008.

Their estimates, based on 2005-2006 growth rates, show that mobile phone penetration rates will have reached almost 50 per cent. This is consistent with the target that was set out by the World Summit on the Information Society in 2003.

Developing countries' shares in technology exports are continuing to grow but the digital divide remains, says a UN report released yesterday.

But penetration rates for Internet and broadband in developing countries remain at very low levels — 25 per cent and three per cent respectively — and the digital divide persists.

"In a global economy in which technology is a major anchor of growth, most developing countries will not be able to fully benefit from globalisation unless they harness innovations and the knowledge that makes them possible," Teltscher told SciDev.Net.

UNCTAD outlines a number of policy recommendations for more effective transfer of knowledge and technology to developing countries. These include: improving flexibility in intellectual property rights, promoting use of open access models, establishing international partnerships for research and development, and supporting capacity building.

The report will be presented at a roundtable discussion at an UNCTAD conference in Ghana in April.

Teltscher told SciDev.Net, "We are taking [this report] up to ministerial level… This is the highest level where we can talk to our constituencies, and hopefully then it will be taken on when they go back at their national level — to put in place the respective policy recommendations that come out of this."

Contributed by Naomi Antony, a writer for SciDev. Reprinted with permission from SciDevNet.

To read another Global Envision article about technology and development, see Uruguay Places First Order for ‘One Laptop per Child' .

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