The growing digital divide

Yet further evidence that internet access, or lack thereof, is already shaping up as one of the defining separations between East and West in the 21st century:

Almost 300 million people worldwide are now accessing the internet using fast broadband connections, fuelling the growth of social networking services such as MySpace and generating thousands of hours of video through websites such as YouTube.

There are more than 1.1 billion of the world’s estimated 6.6 billion people online and almost a third of them are now accessing the internet on high-speed lines. According to the internet consultancy Point Topic, 298 million people had broadband at the end of March and that is already estimated to have shot over 300 million. The statistics, however, paint a picture of a divided digital world.

While there are high levels of broadband penetration in western Europe, North America and hi-tech economies such as South Korea, usage in developing countries, and especially in Africa, is pitiful. Many of these emerging economies lack telephone services, let alone the sort of broadband internet access that has become available to every household in Europe.

In terms of total broadband users, the US leads the pack with more than 60 million subscribers. But second-placed China is fast closing the gap. From 41 million users a year ago, China now has more than 56 million and looks set to overtake the US as the world’s largest broadband market this year.

In Iran, access to the internet is ubiquitous, though with severe restrictions. ADSL connections are common – even in small desert towns like Yazd – but I’ve found a handful of satellite-enabled computers that bypass the country’s censor’s altogether.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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