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IVR - IVR: Access to Voice and Data Connectivity Transforms the Lives of World's Poorest Nations
May 16, 2011

IVR: Access to Voice and Data Connectivity Transforms the Lives of World's Poorest Nations

By Rajani Baburajan, TMCnet Contributor

A recent research from ITU finds that people living in Least Developed Countries (LDC) are benefiting from a ‘mobile cellular miracle,’ which arises due to access to voice and data connectivity.

According to ITU, the access to voice and date in these countries has risen from an LDC average of 1.2 percent of the population to almost 30 percent in just ten years.  The rise in phone connectivity far exceeds the targets set out in the LDC III Brussels Programme of Action, which called for average telephone density in LDCs to reach 5 percent by 2011.

Mobile cellular technology has transformed the ICT landscape in the world’s 48 UN-designated Least Developed Countries, bringing connectivity to almost 250 million people in LDCs. This is significant because the spread of mobile technology was considered the province of people in wealthy countries.

While the number of fixed lines has barely risen in LDCs over the past decade, mobile access has mushroomed, with cumulative annual growth rates over the past five years of 42.6 percent in LDCs compared to just 7.1 percent in developed countries.

Only a tiny handful of LDCs – Myanmar, Kiribati, Eritrea and Ethiopia – still had mobile penetration below the LDC III target of 5 percent in 2010. This number is expected to shrink further by mid-2010.

There was significant rise in the penetration of Internet in LDCs over the past decade. The average Internet penetration was 2.5 percent by the end of 2010, compared to under 0.3 percent in 2001.

Despite these figures, the Internet penetration in LDCs is still far too low, according to ITU secretary-general Hamadoun Touré, and remains well below the Brussels III target of 10 percent.

“People ask me if Internet penetration is really such a high priority for people who, on a daily basis, face a lack of safe drinking water, rising food prices, and a chronic shortage of healthcare,” said Touré. “My answer is a resounding ‘yes’.”

According to Touré, Internet, especially broadband, is an extraordinary enabler which has potential to massively expand the effective delivery of vital services, such as healthcare and education. “Nowhere is this more important than in countries where people are chronically deprived of these services.”

Expanded access to ICTs is already bringing services such as mobile banking to tens of millions of people in the developing world, giving them a level of financial power to manage their lives which they have never before enjoyed, according to ITU.

“There are many reasons to be optimistic,” said Touré. “In the past two years alone we have seen a remarkable surge in national and international bandwidth in developing countries, with several new submarine cables being landed, and new advanced technologies which can help affordably bridge the digital divide.”

ITU has also set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development last year, in partnership with UNESCO.

Earlier last year ITU had predicted that total global mobile cellular subscriptions will reach 5 billion this year, up from about 4.6 billion at the end of 2009.

Rajani Baburajan is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Rajani's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Juliana Kenny

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