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OECD Observer

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Beyond the haves and have-nots of mobile handsets, PCs or hand-held IT devices, there is a deeper, and perhaps more debilitating, layer to the digital divide. And that is the availability (or lack) of basic network infrastructure in low-income economies.

Bandwidth is the key, since broader bands can accommodate more information than conventional dial-up services. Though users in poorer countries may (and often do) have basic IT skills, these will be under-employed without accessible and affordable connectivity. In fact, without broadband, access to knowledge networks and other services is limited, while some types of digital information, such as complex imagery for medicine, might not be handled at all.

The bandwidth gap is wide. The total population of Liberia must share an international Internet connection of 256 kbit/s (kilobits per second), the equivalent of just one baseline residential broadband connection in the OECD. A single Danish resident has more bandwidth than the whole of Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Comoros, Turkmenistan, Chad and Niger combined. And a single 100 Mbit/s broadband user in Japan has access to as much international connectivity as the 45 countries with the lowest international connectivity combined.

©OECD Observer No 250, July 2005

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