People without access to digital technology will be left behind: World bank

Jan 19, 2016 (LBO) – Greater effort must be made to connect more people to the internet and to create an environment that unleashes the benefits of digital technologies, a World Bank report says.

The spread of digital technologies over the last two decades has been rapid but the hoped-for benefits of greater productivity, more opportunity for the poor and middle class, more accountable governments and companies have not spread as far and wide as anticipated, the World Bank’s 2016 World Development Report on the internet, “Digital Dividends” says.

“Clearly, the potential is massive,” said Deepak Mishra, a World Bank economist and one of the co-directors of the report. “We share the optimism of Silicon Valley when it comes to the transformative potential of digital technologies. But not the expedient view that the benefits are both assured and automatic.”

“We think translating digital investments into dividends is much more difficult than many experts have reported before.”

While internet users have tripled in a decade to an estimated 3.2 billion, nearly 60 percent of people globally (four billion people) are still offline, the report says.

Despite the rapid adoption of mobile phones, nearly two billion people do not use one. Almost half a billion people live outside areas with a mobile signal.

“Connecting everyone is a priority,” says Uwe Diechmann, the other Digital Dividends co-director.

Digital technologies, however, are not a shortcut to development, though they can accelerate it if used in the right way, Deichmann adds.

“We see a lot of disappointment and wasted investments. It’s actually quite shocking how many e-government projects fail,” says Deichmann.

“While technology can be extremely helpful in many ways, it’s not going to help us circumvent the failures of development over the last couple of decades. You still have to get the basics right: education, business climate, and accountability in government.”

The report covers the internet’s role in promoting development, including growth, jobs, and delivering services while it also examines the risks of the digital age, the growing concentration of the industry, increasing inequality as some types of jobs get automated and disappear, and the threat that the Internet will be used to control information instead of sharing it.