First off, my apologies for taking so long to post something new. It’s been nearly two months since my last entry. Frankly, I’ve been enjoying summer too much, devoting too much of my free time to various other pursuits like re-reading the Harry Potter books and other volunteering opportunities outside of Invictus Institute.
But I’m back, with part two of my reporting on the digital divide across the regions where Invictus Institute operates. The digital divide, of course, refers to the lack of stable Internet connections throughout the globe. According to the UN, over half the human race lacks a dependable connection to the Internet, something U.S. citizens can find practically anywhere, from churches to laundromats.
Due to the issue’s abstract nature, it pays to burrow for information at the regional level. Last time I wrote about the digital divide as it stands in the continent of Africa. Today, I will do the same thing for the continent of Asia.
At first glance, Asia appears to be doing rather well with linking their people to the Internet. Based on the data from Internet World Stats, they have managed to garner 1,874,000 Internet users as of March 31, 2017. As illustrated in the chart below, this puts them well ahead of any other world region; the next closest, Europe, has nearly three times fewer.
However, upon closer inspection, this appearance of ubiquitous Internet accessibility proves deceiving. While it may possess the highest number of Internet users, the continent of Asia also possesses the largest percentage of the world’s population. Of the world’s 7.5 billion people, 4.4 billion of them reside in Asia. As Worldometers points out, this amounts to 59.69% of all humanity. Given that proportional perspective, Asia turns out to be lagging far behind the majority of the planet with a 45.2% Internet penetration rate. In other words, only 45.2% of Asia’s population, less than half, maintain sturdy Internet connections. As seen in Internet World Statistic’s visualization, the only region they are ahead of is Africa.
A Closer Look at the Continent
Like Africa, certain parts of Asia are far more likely to be linked to the Internet. Last year the UN’s ESCAP office (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) published a report entitled “State of ICT in Asia and the Pacific 2016: Uncovering the Widening Broadband Divide“. Within its pages, they explain “that 74.89 per cent of total fixed broadband subscriptions in Asia and the Pacific are concentrated in East and North-East Asia”. In other words, a handful of nations such as China, South Korea, and Japan contain three quarters of all steady broadband connections.
The remaining (approximate) quarter of subscriptions are pitifully divvied up as follows: “South and South-West Asia (9.77 per cent), North and Central Asia (7.68 per cent), South-East Asia (5.74 per cent) and the Pacific (1.93 per cent)”. India and Bangladesh, where Invictus Institute operates, are of course located in South Asia, and the Solomon Islands, where we will soon operate, is in the Pacific.
Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, Executive Secretary of ESCAP, offers some insights into Asia’s Internet disparity. In an article published by The Diplomat, she points out that “high income countries [are] experiencing a higher growth rate of broadband penetration relative to other countries.” Simply put, the richer nations have more money to spend on the broadband infrastructure necessary for enduring Internet connections, including the apparatuses themselves, labor costs, etc.
As with Africa, distance from the coast also plays an important role. The highly connected, East and Northeast Asian countries border the ocean, making it possible to ship the required equipment and supplies. Transportation remains haphazard and shaky, however, among landlocked countries, forming another barrier to broadband infrastructure implementation.
Another, more unique factor is Asia’s susceptibility to natural disasters. “Earthquakes, for instance, have disrupted submarine cables and subsequently access to the Internet among densely populated coastal areas and cities,” Dr. Akhtar reasons. One does not have to think back terribly far to recall nature’s ferocious displays in Asia, such as the the Gorkha earthquake that struck Nepal in 2015; Typhoon Haiyan, which raged across the Philippines in 2013; and the Great East Japan Earthquake, which subsequently triggered a tsunami and nuclear reactor meltdown in 2011. The relative frequency of such calamitous events poses a daunting challenge to any development projects.
Fortunately, another similarity that Asia shares with Africa regarding the digital divide is the promising future ahead. In an ESCAP summit held last October, “more than 35 Asia-Pacific countries…[voiced] overwhelming support to develop seamless regional connectivity to increase the availability, reliability and affordability of broadband Internet for all.” The project is commonly referred to as the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway. Its goal is to buttress current broadband infrastructure as well as further expand it to close the digital divide. Expectations are that increased connectivity will lead to “transformative opportunities to the poorest and most disadvantaged members of society.”
Invictus Institute eagerly awaits the day when the Superhighway is completed. Its realization will mean more young students within reach of the Internet, and therefore, within reach of Invictus Institute’s tutors. We stand with Dr. Akhtar, who declared, “We must put forth all our efforts to close the digital divide and ensure that all people are able to thrive in today’s information economy.”