Cost-effective internet services needed to bridge digital divide, experts say

Rapid and decisive mobilization of cost-effective internet resources and services are needed to bridge the growing digital divide in the post-Covid era, industry experts have said.

With around 47% of the world’s population offline and the cost of available broadband exceeding affordability in 50% of developed countries, there is a need to accelerate efforts to achieve digital inclusion at all levels, Badr Jafar , managing director of Sharjah-conglomerate Crescent Enterprises, told a panel during the World Economic Forum’s Edison Alliance discussion on “boosting digital inclusion.”

“We, the connected people, are the real agents of change… and history will judge us if we have truly used these tools for the collective well-being of humanity and our planet,” he said.

About 85% of the world’s population live in areas covered by 4G connectivity, but only half are online, with cost being the “critical barrier” to connectivity, the WEF said.

In low-income countries, home to 650 million people, mobile broadband is 18 times more expensive than in developed countries, as a proportion of average income, according to the forum.

The Edison Alliance aims to improve the lives of a billion people by increasing cheaper digital access to healthcare, finance and education by 2025.

As an Edison Alliance partner, Crescent Enterprises aims to increase the digital capacity of small and medium-sized businesses in the Middle East and North Africa region. SMEs represent over 90 percent of all businesses in the MENA region.

The region is leading its efforts towards digital inclusion with new investments.

In Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy, spending on information and communications technology is expected to exceed $ 37 billion last year, the Middle East Institute said. Meanwhile, UAE’s ICT spending is expected to reach $ 23 billion by 2024.

“Most of the world’s population lives within the coverage of broadband infrastructure. However, the lack of… affordable services means that 47% of people still cannot participate and do not benefit from the internet, ”said Derek O’Halloran, head of the Platform for Shaping the Future of the Economy digital technology and the creation of new value at WEF. .

“The challenge is not limited to infrastructure – it is about the collaboration and investments needed between different industries, governments and civil society to bring safe and meaningful services to people’s lives.”

The coronavirus pandemic forced countries last year to impose widespread restrictions on travel and prompted remote working. But the outbreak has also highlighted the deep digital divide between countries, as those with poor connectivity lag behind.

Internet penetration is 87 percent in developed countries, but only 47 percent in developing countries – and 19 percent in least developed countries, the International Telecommunication Union said, an agency supported by the UN,

“As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, it has never been clearer that digital accessibility, affordability and usability are essential to participate in everything from education and banking to receiving basic health care, ”said Hans Vestberg, president and CEO of the United States. telecommunications company Verizon.

“Through the Edison Alliance, we aim to create a more digitally inclusive world by connecting 1 billion lives to this fundamental core of our society.”

Update: September 24, 2021, 3:30 a.m.

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