WIA Report

Patterns of International Inequality in Technology Access, 1995-2005

A decade into the information society, computing and communication technologies should be dispersed among a large number of countries in the world. But key computing and communication technologies are actually more concentrated in fewer countries, not more diffused across many countries.

The information society is not as pervasive as we would expect. Around the world, access to key information and communications technologies, such as mobile phones and the Internet, has improved. But the distribution of hosts and secure servers among the world’s populations has worsened, and the trend towards equally distributed computing resources around the world has actually reversed in recent years. ((Staff calculations based on data from:  International Telecommunication Union. (2005). World Telecommunication Indicators. Geneva: International Telecommunication Union; World Bank. (2006). World Development Indicators. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.))

One of the most common ways of measuring how a resource is distributed among a population is through GINI coefficients. In a perfectly equal society, 23 percent of the population has 23 percent of the resources, 90 percent of the population has 90 percent of the resources. A more equal society will have a low GINI coefficient, and a society in which resources are highly concentrated will have a high GINI coefficent. But technology resources are not evenly distributed between the countries and peoples of the world.

Using data on the number of mobile phones, Internet hosts, Internet users, personal computers, and secure servers around the world in 1995, 2000 and 2005, GINI coefficients reveal how equally these resources are distributed. ((Download WIA spreadsheets:  Summary; Mobile Phones - By Country; Mobile Phones - By Population; Internet Hosts - By Country; Internet Hosts - By Population; Secure Servers – By Country; Secure Servers - By Population; Personal Computers - By Country; Personal Computers - By Population; Internet Users – By Country; Internet Users - By Population))

More important, the coefficients reveal how the distribution of information technologies between these countries – between 160 and 240 countries, depending on the technology – has changed over the last decade.

Since the mobile phone market has opened and the cost of mobile phones has decreased in the last decade, it is not surprising that the distribution of mobile phones by country and by population has improved significantly. Similarly, the proportion of a country’s population with some Internet access has smoothed out over the last decade, with more public and private Internet access points opening in homes around the world. The last 10 years have seen little change in the distribution of personal computers between countries, and in the last five years there has been little change in the distribution of secure servers between countries.

Surprisingly, several key communications technologies are more unequally distributed today than they were in 1995. Internet hosts have been more evenly distributed among the world’s populations, but are increasingly concentrated in a few countries with large populations. In other words, India and China have large populations and large numbers of Internet users, and over the last decade have added a large number of hosts to the Internet. Compared with previous years, proportionally fewer hosts in 2005 used domain names assigned to less populous, but still developing countries. Relative to population, the distribution of secure servers is more concentrated today than it was five years ago.

While there has been little change in the distribution of personal computers between countries, the distribution of personal computers between people improved between 1995-2000, but then worsened between 2000-2005. In other words, the trend towards an evening distribution of personal computers around the world reversed in recent years. Even though open markets may have brought mobile phones to many parts of the planet, it is not clear that personal computer technologies will have the same pattern of diffusion.

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