While the number of Internet users worldwide has more than tripled since 2005, the anticipated digital dividends of higher growth, more jobs and better public service provision have fallen short of expectations, a new World Bank report shows.
The 'World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends’ report, released this week, showed that the impact of technology on global productivity, opportunities for the poor and middle-class and the spread of accountable governance had been less than expected.
“Digital technologies are spreading rapidly, but digital dividends – growth, jobs and services – have lagged behind,” the report said.
“Firms are more connected than ever before, but global productivity growth has slowed. Digital technologies are changing the world of work, but labour markets have become more polarised and within-country inequality is on the rise in many countries.”
Further, the digital divide remained expansive and, despite the rapid spread of the Internet, mobile phones and other digital technologies throughout the developing world, more than half of the world’s population were still offline and unable to fully participate in the digital economy.
In terms of both access and capability, the digital divide was visible in that six-billion people worldwide did not have high-speed broadband Internet; almost four-billion did not have any Internet access; and nearly two-billion did not have a mobile phone.
The World Bank report indicated the persistence of the digital divide across income, age, geography and gender, with the benefits of the ever-expanding digital economy particularly skewed towards the wealthy, skilled and influential around the world, who were better positioned to take advantage of the new technologies.
“The better-educated, the well-connected and the more capable have received most of the benefits – and the gains from the digital revolution have not been widely shared,” the bank pointed out.
To narrow the rift, the World Bank said countries needed to create the right environment for technology by improving their business climate, investing in people's education and health and promoting good governance, while closing the digital divide by making the Internet universal, affordable, open and safe.
“Digital development strategies need to be much broader than information and communication technology strategies. To reap the greatest benefits, countries must create the right environment for technology: regulations that facilitate competition and market entry, skills that enable workers to leverage the digital economy, and institutions that are accountable to people. Digital technologies can, in turn, accelerate the pace of development,” the bank pointed out.