The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is making significant inroads in its attempt to bridge the digital gap between the rest of the world and 50 of the globe's poorest economies.
According to a recent ITU report, 25 of 50 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have met the information and communication technology (ICT) connectivity targets set out in the Brussels Plan of Action for Least Developed Countries. The ITU report monitors developments between 2001 and 2005, in the global ICT sector including trends and challenges in the world's poorest countries.
A majority of LDCs have boosted ICT connectivity by as much as 20-fold over the last six years, leading to improvement in areas such as mobile telephony and Internet access.
In fact, developments in mobile telephony made a noticeable impact, with the market segment steadily outpacing fixed lines in terms of growth and market penetration.
Cosmas Zavazava, head of the ITU's unit for LDCs, small island development states and emergency telecommunications, said: "The mobile sector in LDCs has grown considerably against fixed lines over the last few years, and the number of mobile subscribers almost doubled in 2005.
"It recorded a significant annual growth of 82 percent from 2000 to 2005, compared with 12 percent in the fixed-line sector," Zavazava said.
Access to the Internet has also increased with a number of countries reaching penetration rates of around 5 percent. In 2005, Internet penetration caught up with fixed-line penetration, providing citizens in LDCs with access to a host of online applications, such as e-education, e-health, e-business, e-agriculture and e-government.
High user demand is also encouraging more countries to upgrade their infrastructure from dial-up Internet connections to faster broadband-based Internet services.
Despite the progress, the ITU noted that LDCs will continue to face tough challenges in the race toward universal access.
Many established policies and regulations have become obsolete, the ITU argued, leading to inefficient and increasingly flawed restrictions and barriers to the development and dissemination of the benefits of IP convergence.
The lack of ICT infrastructure and relevant online content, the high cost of international bandwidth, the absence of cooperation between development partners, and political instability remain daunting challenges.
Farihan Bahrin is a freelance IT writer based in Singapore.