Millions of Filipinos suffer the social injustice of digital divide: World Bank report

By Cai U. Ordinario

THE majority of Filipinos are still unable to access the Internet, according to the latest report released by the World Bank.

In World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends, the World Bank said 63 million Filipinos only have mobile access.

These Filipinos are also part of the 60 percent of the world that has no access to the Internet, mainly because it is unavailable, inaccessible and unaffordable.

“Digital technologies are transforming the worlds of business, work and the government,” said Jim-yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group. “We must continue to connect everyone and leave no one behind because the cost of lost opportunities is enormous. But for digital dividends to be widely shared among all parts of society, countries also need to improve their business climate, invest in people’s education and health, and promote good governance.”

Further, the World Bank said that for the proportion of the population that has Internet access in developing countries like the Philippines, Internet has remained “slow, expensive and rarely ‘always on.’”

The bank said this may be due to the lack of investments made in ensuring connectivity. It said that many developing countries immediately shifted to mobile without making the necessary investments.

This is in contrast to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, where fixed-line networks were established first. These fixed lines became the backbone to stable Internet access.

In order to resolve the digital divide, the World Bank recommended the creation of regulations that facilitate competition and market entry in all countries.

In the Philippines, the World Bank said, the mobile money market, for example, is a “duopoly.” It added that the largest operator in the Philippines controls as much as 77 percent of the market.

Apart from encouraging competition, the World Bank urged countries to create the right environment for technology and foster skills that will enable workers to participate actively in the digital economy.

“It is an amazing transformation that today, 40 percent of the world’s population is connected by the Internet. While these achievements are to be celebrated, this is also occasion to be mindful that we do not create a new underclass,” Kaushik Basu, World Bank chief economist.

“With nearly 20 percent of the world’s population unable to read and write, the spread of digital technologies alone is unlikely to spell the end of the global knowledge divide,” Basu added.

The World Bank said investing in basic infrastructure, reducing the cost of doing business, lower trade barriers, facilitating entry of start-ups, strengthening competition authorities, and facilitating competition across digital platforms are needed.

In addition, while basic literacy remains essential for children, teaching advanced cognitive and critical thinking skills and foundational training in advanced, technical information and communications technology (ICT) systems will be key as the Internet spreads.

“Teaching technical skills early and exposing children to technology promotes ICT literacy and influences career choices,” the World Bank said.

The benefits of improving access to the digital economy through the Internet has already reached the Philippines through the business-process outsourcing (BPO) industry.

The BPO sector has been among the strongest drivers of the Philippine economy at least in the past decade by boosting the growth of the services sector. It has also helped create over a million jobs.

The sector’s offerings include software development, animation, contact centers and transcription services. These are considered ICT-intensive services, which require high skills.

“These ICT-specific services experienced high productivity growth in recent years and provided about 1.2 million jobs in 2015,” World Bank said.

 

 

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A professional journalist for over a decade, Cai U. Ordinario currently writes macroeconomic and urban development stories for BusinessMirror. She has received awards for excellence in reporting on the macroeconomy and statistics. She was also cited for her contribution to statics reporting by the National Statistical Coordination Board (now the Philippine Statistics Authority). She is a recipient of journalism fellowships including the Jefferson Fellowship from the Honolulu-based East West Center. She is currently completing her Masters degree in Communication at the University of the Philippines. She graduated with a degree of Bachelor of Arts Major in Journalism from the University of Santo Tomas.

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