UN reports wide gap in broadband access in developing countries

Business use of broadband Internet remains scarce in developing countries, putting firms at a competitive disadvantage with businesses in industrialized countries, a UN report, quoted by a Xinhua News Agency report said.

Broadband is becoming so vital for businesses and offers such competitive advantages that it is being compared to utilities such as water and electricity, the Information Economy Report, issued by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said.

But that is disturbing news for developing countries, where broadband access is scarce and the basics needed to provide it at reasonable cost are often lacking, the report contends, the Xinhua report said.

It notes large differences between developed countries, where broadband is growing rapidly, and developing countries, where dial- up Internet connections are still prevalent, when there are any connections at all.

In rich countries, broadband subscribers increased by almost 15% in the last half of 2005, reaching 158 million.

Business broadband connectivity grew most significantly, in the European Union, for example, from 53% of enterprises in 2004 to 63% in 2005, the report said.

Availability of broadband in developing countries is difficult to estimate, according to the report. Only 71 of 151 developing nations submitted date on the subject.

But 48 of those 71 said broadband penetration rates were under 1%.

The highest penetration rates among developing countries providing data were in Asia, led by the Republic of Korea at 25.5%. China's broadband penetration rate was only 2.9%.