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The ‘digital divide’ is narrowing

The world is on track to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal for universal and affordable Internet access in the world’s least-developed countries by 2020, according to a new UN report.

Significant progress has been made in the 47 poorest countries, which have all now launched third-generation (3G) mobile services. Around 700 million of the 880 million people in these countries now have access to a mobile network and about 60% are covered by 3G service.

The internet access target is part of SDG №9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure), a goal meant to ensure the poorest nations have the infrastructure to foster innovation and boost GDP growth.

Internet access and infrastructure helps achieve other Global Goals including education, health and financial inclusion. Consulting firm Accenture says such goals could push global ICT industry revenues up 60 percent, to $2.1 trillion, by 2030. It’s not unlike what’s happening in sustainable food and agriculture, with mobile-Internet connections boosting innovations in finance, logistics and data analysis.

But access alone doesn’t guarantee uptake, notes the UN. The least-developed countries still require investments in information and communications technology (ICT) skills, education and gender equality to fully capture the gains of Internet access.

At current growth rates, according the UN, less than one-quarter of the population in the poorest countries will be online by 2020.

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