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Global disparity in access to broadband infrastructure, UN report says

Global disparity in access to broadband infrastructure, UN report says

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A massive global disparity exists for the cost to access a fixed broadband Internet connection, according to new United Nations figures.

A massive global disparity exists for the cost to access a fixed broadband Internet connection, according to new United Nations figures.

Released in anticipation of the UN 2010 Millennium Development Goals Summit in New York this month, the figures indicate that affordable broadband access is a major challenge on the global scale.

The world's most expensive place to get a fixed broadband line? The Central African Republic, just north of the Congo, where it costs almost 40 times the average monthly income. (To be fair, the CAR is also one of the poorest nations in the world.)

Do the math: in the U.S., the equivalent would be broadband with a $2 million price tag.

The world's cheapest place for broadband? Macau in China, where it costs 0.3 percent of the average monthly income there.

Wondering about the U.S.? It clocks in as the world's fourth cheapest place for fixed broadband access.

Widening the scope to all communications technologies, including landlines and mobile phones, Niger in Western Africa becomes the most expensive place in the world.

Here's a rundown of the 2009 data, courtesy of the International Telecommunications Union:

Top 5 most expensive fixed line broadband as proportion of monthly income

  1. Central African Republic (3,891% of monthly income)
  2. Ethiopia (2,085% of monthly income)
  3. Malawi (2,038% of monthly income)
  4. Guinea (1,546% of monthly income)
  5. Niger (967% of monthly income)

Top 5 least expensive fixed line broadband as proportion of monthly income

  1. Macau, China (0.30% of monthly income)
  2. Israel (0.33% of monthly income)
  3. Hong Kong (0.49% of monthly income)
  4. United States (0.5% of monthly income)
  5. Singapore (0.58% of monthly income)

A few more for reference's sake:

  • United Kingdom (0.63% of monthly income)
  • Canada (0.71% of monthly income)
  • Australia (0.77% of monthly income)
  • France (1.02% of monthly income)
  • Germany (1.23% of monthly income)
  • South Korea (1.41% of monthly income)
  • Russia (1.66% of monthly income)
  • Brazil (4.58% of monthly income)
  • India (5.84% of monthly income)
  • China (7.19% of monthly income)

Broadband penetration figures roughly correspond with the cost of access.

The goals of the UN summit are intended to reduce global poverty and improve living standards by 2015. Among them are acute targets for education, health, gender equality and access to communications technology, which is of interest primarily because it facilitates telehealth and online education initiatives.

For now, the question is whether a fixed broadband infrastructure is necessary -- or whether leaders should direct their focus (and investment) toward the mobile industry, which to date counts about 5 billion users worldwide.

The rub: the radio spectrum is a finite resource that can only handle so many users.

The question that hangs over it all: is broadband access a universal human right? Or more importantly: is the "global village" necessary for improved quality of life?

Related reports:

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure