Pakistan is among the five least connected countries, revealed a World Bank study, which said that internet remains unavailable, inaccessible, and unaffordable to a majority of the world population.
Titled ‘Digital Dividends’, the World Bank’s World Development Report 2016 found that there were 3.2 billion internet users globally against a total population of 7.4 billion, which leaves 57% of the world unconnected. Worse still, Pakistan is far below the global average as 165 million people or 83% of the population (200 million) were found to be offline in the country.
India tops the list of the world’s offline populations, followed by China and Indonesia while Pakistan ranks fourth, one place above Bangladesh. While the numbers used to rank countries are absolute, it reflects the total population that is still offline.
“In many instances, digital technologies have boosted growth, expanded opportunities, and improved service delivery,” the report says. However, the broader development benefits of these technologies have fallen short of expectations, the report remarked regarding digital dividends.
With its cellular teledensity standing at 65%, more than half of Pakistan’s population has access to mobile phones, but the country’s internet penetration still remains in the 12% range – little wonder why the report puts Pakistan among other South Asian and Sub-Saharan African nations that have the lowest internet adoption rate, between 0 and 19%.
SOURCE: WORLD BANK
“There was the hope that technology would provide additional incentive to make massive improvement. Unfortunately, this is where we actually see the biggest disappointment,” US News and World report said on its website, quoting Deepak Mishra, co-author of the report. “We were expecting much more benefit than what we found.”
Referring to the report, the American publication further said the advent of internet and growth of mobile technology did not result in citizen empowerment or government accountability. “Consistent, organised access to basic services like a functioning energy grid, trash collection, filing taxes and voting, which are frequently lacking in developing countries, have not been affected.”
Quoting Mishra, the news website said digital dividends or positive outcomes of the spread of technology were lacking when it came their impact on people’s ability to influence their governments’ actions or policies. Technology, it said, didn’t solve two of the most difficult governance problems: how to improve service provider management and how to increase citizen’s voice.
“A significant gap remains between technology and institutions, and where public sector accountability is low, digital technologies often help control rather than empower citizens,” the report finds. “These trends persist, not because of digital technologies, but in spite of them.”
The World Bank report also found that “technology is likely to boost the public’s ability to effect change if a government is already responsive to citizen complaints”.
Another area that fell short of expectations was access to jobs and higher economic growth, the report said.
The number of internet users has tripled since 2005, the report found but only 31% of people in developing countries had access to the internet in 2014 compared to 80% in high-income countries. Only 15% of people in the world can afford access to broadband Internet and there are significant adoption gaps for those living in rural areas, it said.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2016.