& the GII
page considers some claims about digital divides, illustrating
problems regarding basic data and its interpretation.
It covers -
In late 2001 the International Telecommunications Union
that there are now more than twice as many telephone lines
in Africa as in Tokyo, questioning the claim
that "Tokyo has more telephones than the whole of the African
That was reinforced by a 2005 World Bank report
claiming that there were 59 million fixed-line or mobile
phones in Africa in 2002, contradicting the claim by Senegalese
President Abdoulaye Wade at a 2004 UN news conference that
there were more telephones in Manhattan than in all of Africa.
The report sniffed that
New Yorkers and their commuter friends have 12 phones
each, Africa now has many more telephones than Manhattan.
We have questioned what is a very crude measure of teledensity:
the ITU counts lines but does not identify whether they
are working, who is using them and how much the traffic
costs. Ten lines to urban villas of the kleptocrats, for
example, have a different value to ten lines in regular
use by poor farmers in a remote village.
The distribution of those lines is even more problematical,
since independent research suggests that Capetown and Johannesburg
for example account for a large proportion of the continent's
Tim Kelly of the ITU (PDF)
noted that although there were more telephones in Tokyo
than in Africa at the time of the 1985 Maitland Missing
Link report (PDF)
- the acknowledged or unacknowledged source of what critics
have labelled 'the Tokyo Syndrome' - that had changed by
the late 1990s. As of December 2003 the ITU considered that
there were around 25 million fixed lines and over 50 million
mobile phones in Africa, several times more than Tokyo's
population. Some figures are here.
a phone-free life?
A corollary is the claim that "half of the world's
population has never made a telephone call".
There has been no comprehensive survey of who has made a
call - whether from their own device, from a phone lent
by a family member or friend, or from a 'community' phone.
(Figures for the number of people who have received a letter
or, in the past, were recipients of a telegram, are also
The claim does not appear in the Maitland report. The ITU
has suggested that although large parts of the world's population
still lack physical access to a landline or mobile phone
(and more significantly cannot afford to make a call if
infrastructure is available) those people now comprise less
than half the global population. Some ITU estimates, as
of 2006, indicate that under 20% of the world's population
have no telephone access in their home or village.
The Tokyo model has been adapted for the 'Iceland Syndrome',
with claims that "there are more internet users in
Iceland than in Africa". Variants include more users
in London, Sydney or Manhattan.
The claim was publicised in the 1999 ITU Internet for
Development report. By 2004 there were an estimated
12.4 million internet users in Africa (unevenly distributed,
with most being located in South Africa), well over 40 times
the total population of Iceland.
Critics have responded to dismissals by noting that on a
per capita basis internet access is much more likely to
be a luxury in Africa than in Reyjkavik or Melbourne and
that people in the First World are more likely to go online
A perhaps more searching criticism, consistent with disagreements
about the meaningfulness of teledensity
counts, is that recent ITU figures merely identify whether
someone has been online. They do not, for example, differentiate
between some who is online every day (often for much of
each day) and someone who is online for a few minutes each
week or each month. They also do not identify the shape
of access: is 'use' restricted to email or encompasses electronic
commerce and YouTube?
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