Africa remains the last among world regions in Internet penetration, at 5.4 percent of its population, compared to a world average of more than 24 percent. But that access is also growing at the most rapid rate on earth. Not surprisingly, developed countries lead the way. The U.S. has one of the highest Internet penetration rates, and China has the largest numbers online.
International bandwidth is crucial if a developing country wants to remain competitive, says Russell Southwood of Global Information Society Watch 2008. Using the Internet in Africa, he says, “has been like having to eat a three-course meal by sucking it through a straw: time-consuming, unreliable, and expensive.”
Africa particularly is at risk for losing out on Internet business. But that may change in 2009 as bandwidth installation prices are cut by up to 90 percent in some countries, hopefully reducing costs inside those countries and bringing cheaper connections to neglected rural areas.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from three articles on global Internet usage—from the commercial firm ComScore, the web site Internet World Stats, and the web site Balancing Act:
- The ComScore article lists the major Internet users around the world, as of December 2008. China is the largest online user with 180 million Internet users (almost 18 percent share of the total worldwide Internet audience), followed by the U.S. (16.2 percent share), Japan (6.0), Germany (3.7), and the U.K. (3.6). The list continues with those under 3 percent, including France, India, Russia, Brazil, South Korea, Canada, Italy, Mexico, and the Netherlands.
- The Internet World Stats article notes that Internet users in the world topped 1.5 billion by July of 2008, or about 23.4 percent of the world’s population of more than 6.7 billion. It shows for the first time a table of yearly growth (2007 versus 2008) for each region of the world, with estimated users and penetration rates.
- The Balancing Act article lays out nuts and bolts of the issue for developing countries (also called least-developed countries, or (LDCs). Cheap and accessible bandwidth carries voice and data from one place to another, allowing information, ideas, and money to flow—and encouraging regional as well as global trade. “Bandwidth is the petrol of the new global economy,” it points out. And the watchdog. World tyrants find that their actions are made public, alluding to “the power of information to influence those in power.” Bandwidth can bring social, political, and economic benefits to Africa, creating new "think work" industries and competitive outsourcing firms. This has occurred with other technologies like the mobile phone, which is now within reach of 60 to 70 percent of Africa’s population, while the Internet reaches only 12 to 15 percent. Market pressure, competition, and international groups such as the World Bank have helped by pushing for cable installation. In short, impoverished nations need a fair chance in the new global economy. And to get there, Africa needs a “national backbone” of Internet services.