The Digital War on Poverty

NEW YORK – The digital divide is beginning to close. The flow of digital information – through mobile phones, text messaging, and the Internet – is now reaching the world’s masses, even in the poorest countries, bringing with it a revolution in economics, politics, and society. 

Extreme poverty is almost synonymous with extreme isolation, especially rural isolation. But mobile phones and wireless Internet end isolation, and will therefore prove to be the most transformative technology of economic development of our time.

The digital divide is ending not through a burst of civic responsibility, but mainly through market forces. Mobile phone technology is so powerful, and costs so little per unit of data transmission, that it has proved possible to sell mobile phone access to the poor. There are now more than 3.3 billion subscribers in the world, roughly one for every two people on the planet. 

Moreover, market penetration in poor countries is rising sharply. India has around 300 million subscribers, with subscriptions rising by a stunning eight million or more per month. Brazil now has more than 130 million subscribers, and Indonesia has roughly 120 million. In Africa, which contains the world’s poorest countries, the market is soaring, with more than 280 million subscribers.