The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the differences between rich and poor countries in access to digital technology, according to a report by the OECD.
In the wealthier countries of the world, access to computers and the internet has helped soften the blow of the pandemic by allowing people to work from home, making it easier for authorities to inform the public about the situation and the measures to be taken, and greatly helped researchers in the search for a vaccine, the report says.
But the existing digital divide has also been exacerbated by the pandemic, as poorer countries – as well as poorer regions within richer countries – are unable to keep up, and find themselves falling even further behind.
Member states of the OECD – the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development – have twice as many subscriptions to high-speed mobile internet per capita than non-members, and three times as many broadband subscriptions.
And there is a digital divide even within the OECD: 82% of broadband is carried by high-speed fibre connections in South Korea and 79% in Japan. But the level is below 5% in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Israel and the UK.
Average mobile data usage per subscription in OECD countries quadrupled in the four years to June 2019, and prices for high-usage mobile broadband fell by 59% between 2013 and 2019, according to the report. As of June 2020, the latest generation 5G services were available in 22 OECD countries.
“Digital technologies have helped our economies and societies to avoid a complete standstill during the Covid-19 crisis, and have enabled us to learn more about the virus, accelerate the search for a vaccine and track the development of the pandemic,” said OECD deputy secretary-general Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen, launching the report, Digital Economy Outlook (pdf).
“But the crisis has also accentuated our dependence on digital technologies and exposed the reality of the digital divides between and within countries. We are at a turning point in the digital transformation, and the shape of our economies and societies post-Covid will depend on how well we can progress and narrow those divisions.”