The Internet has become an increasingly important tool for development, providing access to information to science, technology and innovation, fostering and enhancing regional and international cooperation and knowledge-sharing. High-speed access is important to ensure that Internet users can take advantage of the growing amount of its content - including user-generated content, services and information.
While the number of fixed broadband subscriptions has increased substantially over the last years and while service providers offer increasingly higher speeds, fixed Internet broadband can vary tremendously by speed, thus affecting the quality and functionality of Internet access.
The rapid development of broadband networks is widely considered essential if developing countries are to leverage the benefits now available through ICTs and avoid the widening of development divides that could result from differential rates of growth in digital technology. UNCTAD (2015c)
Many countries, especially in the developing world, have not only very limited fixed broadband subscriptions, but also these are at very low speeds. This limitation is a barrier to maximizing the potential of the Internet. Internet access can also be used as a measure of the digital divide, which, if not properly addressed, will aggravate inequalities in all development domains.
Hence, IAEG-SDG has selected
Fixed Internet broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, by speed as the appropriate indicator serving as a broad barometer on the divides noted above.
Figure 17.11 shows that while developed economies were at a much higher base in 2005, more than 15 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in developed economies compared with less than 2 per 100 in developing economies, the growth in fixed broadband subscriptionsSubscriptions to high-speed access to the public Internet, at downstream speeds equal to or greater than 256 kbit/s.
more have been much higher in developing economies over the past decade. Today, developed economies have an average of 29 broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants compared with only 7 per 100 in developing economies.
The indicator also demands that fixed Internet broadband subscriptions are categorized by advertised broadband download speeds17.23. ITU collects data for this indicator broken down into three speeds: (1) 256 kbit/s and < 2 Mbit/s17.24; (2) 2 Mbit/s and < 10 Mbit/s17.25; (3) >= 10 Mbit/s17.26. Figure 17.12 shows the distribution of Internet broadband speeds for selected countries where data are available.
For example, all of the Republic of Korea’s broadband is at least 10 Mbits per second, whereas in Germany broadband speeds are available at three different speeds, with more than half (56 per cent) of inhabitants using high speed (>= 10 Mbit/s), 39 per cent using medium speed broadband (2 Mbit/s and < 10 Mbit/s) and the remaining 5 per cent using low-speed broadband Internet access.
Several countries do not have high-speed broadband at all. For example, while Tunisia does have high-speed broadband, the vast majority (96 per cent) of Internet users subscribe to medium speed. In contrast, in Egypt only 15 per cent of inhabitants access the Internet via medium-speed broadband, with the great majority reliant on low-speed broadband. In countries such as the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Guyana, Pakistan, Senegal, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the small numbers that do have access to the Internet only have access to low-speed connections.
UNCTAD has also drawn attention to the importance of the digital divide in broadband capacity and quality, noting that it creates other divisions between countries and regions in terms of the extent to which individuals, businesses, economies and societies are able to take advantage of new ICT innovations and applications (UNCTAD, 2013b).
The importance of broadband infrastructure for seizing the full opportunities from e-commerce, including leveraging cloud solutions and purchasing digital products that require high quality broadband service, has also been highlighted (UNCTAD, 2015d). The fundamental importance of affordable and reliable ICT infrastructure for e-commerce has also been stressed.
The UNCTAD report notes
...there should be universal coverage of high-speed broadband, with regular upgrading of infrastructure, and reduced or eliminated artificial regulatory barriers to service providers wishing to access the network or other services. In addition, the international regulatory environment for ICT infrastructure and related services should be open, competitive and transparent (UNCTAD, 2016a).