back to article 3.4 billion people live within range of a mobile network but lack a device to make the connection

The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development has suggested that efforts to close the digital divide should shift from providing connectivity to ensuring access to affordable devices and the education that will help people put them to work. The Commission was formed in 2010 by the International Telecommunications Union …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Voda who?

    Problems with digital divide are less due to customer technology confusion than BT market 1 lockin.

    The premise that business will ever provide a quality service when they do not have to is false, especially if they are making money from not doing so.

    Where business has a monopoly, history has shown that they will do nothing that might remove their profitable control over a market.

    If this commission had wanted to be taken seriously they should have kept any involvement with Vodafone a secret as I would suggest that too many people believe that company are untrustworthy and their inclusion makes this just a marketing exercise. I can understand Vodafone wanting to change their public perception but I would suggest that after decades of customer abuse that it is going to take a little more effort.

    1. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: Voda who?

      Yeah I dont think they're particularly talking about the UK here. Unless you really think BT controls mobile networks throughout the developing world?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rather like

    Trying to find a Public Toilet in Brussels.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Rather like

      Not a problem for Mannekin pis.

  3. Mike 137 Silver badge

    The fundamental problem

    This kind of divide occurs to a great extent because of cultural confusion between the World and the G20 (from the perspective of the G20).

    But the telecoms divide dwindles to nothing compared with the fact that almost 40% of the World's population still lives on less than $2 a day.

    However the confusion is perfectly illustrated by a Goooooooooogle search for "$2 a day". The majority of the results on the first two pages refer solely to America, as if poverty didn't exist anywhere other than in the land of the free.

    1. Richard Jones 1

      Re: The fundamental problem

      There are likely too few reports, papers and searches directed at the rest of the world's shortage situations to rank the living on $2 per day in the rest of the world, that highly. There is also the issue that some governments would be unable to care less about the fate of their people as long as they and their armed guards are OK. In practice, mobile usage and take up improves communities and increases the viability of the service provider's network, if enough marginal users can get access to even basic devices. They do not need antisocial networking, they need access to local produce pricing to sell in the best daily markets. Swathes of Africa have shown the benefit. It is a process slow in the building, but hugely valuable in the achievement. Vodafone has some experience in such locations and no doubt this colours their belief that users need a cost-effective 4G phone rather than a higher cost example that requires more charging, probably from the 'pooled' community solar charger.

      1. Persona Silver badge

        Re: The fundamental problem

        People living on $2 per day are focused on getting enough food to survive. Only when they get richer will they be able to cross the digital divide. Will they get richer? Probably, but it takes time. Look back to where we in the UK were less than 180 years ago.

        1842 – Children under 10 are no longer allowed to work in Mines (The Mines Act).

        1843 – Dickens publishes “A Christmas Carol”.

        1844 – Children aged 8 – 13 are no longer allowed to work over 6.5 hours a day (The Factory Act).

        Both the Mines and the Factories act caused civil strife as families could no longer afford to feed their children who were no longer able work and earn money. 180 years is only two lifetimes. There will possibly still be people alive who have met people who were forced to stop working in a mine till they were 10.

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: The fundamental problem

      Agreed, but then you also have the willingness or the need for the technology.

      Some people don't want or don't need technology or are scared of using it. Money is one thing, but even people who can afford it don't always have it.

      The kids grandparents (wife's ex's parents), for example, were switched to VOIP at home, but they just have a router with built in DECT and a telephone. They don't have any internet usage, they don't have smartphones, tablets or PCs and have never used a keyboard in their lives.

      My step-daughter sends them an envelope of photos every month of their grandchild.

      They are not interested in technology, they don't "need" technology and they don't want any technology in their lives. They do have a mobile phone, somewhere. It was used about 20 years ago, when the grandfather went on holiday with his mates, he would turn it on every evening to call his wife an see if there were any problems. Since then, it has sat in a cupboard. And it isn't down to money, they could afford iPads and either broadband or mobile contracts, for example.

      I'm sure they aren't unique.

      And, if it is a question of money, even giving someone a smartphone won't solve anything. Can they even read? What use is a smartphone to them, when they are out hunting, other than scaring away their prey, when it rings or vibrates at the wrong moment?

      For a lot of the people who don't have a smartphone, there are more immediate problems that need to be solved first. Clean, potable (if not running) water, enough food, somewhere safe to live, access to doctors, healthcare and medication, education.

      Once those problems have been solved, then you can worry about them not having a smartphone... But, a smartphone brings in revenue, whereas the rest of the problems mean actually investing money!

  4. Jason Hindle

    Time to revive the old OLPC concept?

    With phones thrown in also? In the developed world we throw away enough equipment to make a dent in the less developed world's problem in this respect. The cost of data is a problem. It's the only way the networks can get a return on their investment but means the cost of a bit of browsing is eye watering for someone on $2 per day. That could be partly solved with shared hotspots in villages and small towns but even then is questionable where literacy is low.

    I've witnessed the in-between bit. In-between getting the networks built and phones becoming ubiquitous. At the economic level they get things moving/improve liquidity and this improves lives. Don't neglect voice - it's still a pretty big thing for those who can't read and write.

    1. Insert sadsack pun here Silver badge

      Re: Time to revive the old OLPC concept?

      "Don't neglect voice - it's still a pretty big thing for those who can't read and write."

      Quite so - including voice notes sent by WhatsApp.

  5. ThatOne Silver badge

    Our world is so much more complicated...

    > digital inclusivity requires

    Switching off all low-cost standards and focus exclusively on brand new shiny 5G, and make sure phones become useless after a couple years so they can't be handed down. As everybody can see...

    Poor people don't matter, simply because there is no money to be made out of them, and making money is what business is all about. Companies might make a token gesture to enhance their public image, but they won't go as far as to waste/lose money on it, lest the "stakeholders" drive that stake through their hearts.


    What I'm trying to say is that this is an uphill and often slightly vain battle. Vain because getting unfettered Internet access to populations living in environments or cultures too different from 21th century USA can cause very high societal and cultural damage.

    Also one could argue if a lot if those seemingly "backward" societies really need Facebook access, and if it will improve their lives to follow the current celebrity of some faraway land with customs and life styles so foreign it could be from another planet.

    On the other hand fast and cheap communications are beneficial to all, and do help indeed, but unfortunately they don't yield much profit, so they won't be the priority. Priority will be in "value-added" services, where the main goal is profit (if not just skimming subsidies)...

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: Our world is so much more complicated...

      Poor people don't matter, simply because there is no money to be made out of them

      You are wrong. There is a whole political industry built around exploitation of the poor. As long as you can promise them bread and water and other handouts, they'll vote you in and you can build your big business around it. Heavily taxing everyone who is ambitious, and making sure they will never create a competition to your party or businesses, through lack of funding. Use that money for handouts and vanity projects.

  6. martinusher Silver badge

    You really don't need one mobile device per person

    There's a lot of people out there who won't benefit from owning a mobile device. In our western societies there's those who are too young or too old, there's those who either don't have the money or are not interested in the devices and even a few who regard them as a self-financing auto-tracking device. Elsewhere in the world there are still substantial numbers of people who are so poor that their focus is just on food, water and shelter, not on finding charging facilities and paying mobile plans. (In many parts of the world a mobile phone becomes someone's small business -- the locals there use the phone like we used to use landlines.)

    There's also ample evidence to suggest that introducing social networks into societies can cause considerable collateral damage. We see this in our own societies -- not everyone is a sophisticated user so mobile internet becomes not just an attention sucker but also a hot bed of unfounded rumours & unsubstantiated speculation plus a quite a bit of political manipulation and crime. People's use of the devices will eventually evolve as I hope the devices do (the current touchscreen interface is more a convenience for the manufacturer and software provider than a truly useful user interface). So give it time, and while we're about it maybe spend the effort on potable water, sustainable crops, workable sanitation and all the other trappings of civilization that we take for granted.

  7. hoola Silver badge

    A Western/Technology View

    So this is a survey by an organisation in a developed country advocating that less developed countries have to spend money on tech.

    Voice calls are a very good communications tool and can be beneficial. The trouble is that for rich countries the voice function of a phone is barely relevant, it is everything else that does the damage, destroys cultures and socienties.

    Being a "developed" country is a uniquely Western philosophy where countries that don't have access to what we perceive as critical services as being deprived.

    Providing clean drinking water, sanitation and education is probably a better use of money than this. Yes is has its place, but just not how the west perceive it.

  8. elsergiovolador Silver badge


    3.4 billion people live free within range of a mobile network but lack a leash that would connect them to the ministry of truth

    There I fixed it.

  9. Lorribot

    Oh good the random stupid statistics that really don't address the problem but support the argument we got paid to make by the suppliers of the service we are bigging up.

    Here's some more

    95% of people are unable to afford the cost of mobile based internet for all but the most basic stuff.

    95% of people would not class the mobile internet speed as adequate 95% of the time they want to use it.

    I live in reasonable sized town in rural Essex and I would not rely on any UK mobile phone company for internet access other than very basic surfing/email. Recently I had to tether my Vodaphone phone to my son's O2 phone even though my signal showed 4G but would not run an audio Teams meeting.

    As my company is in bed with Vodaphone they had to put a transmitter in one of our buildings to provide coverage as no one could get a signal to make a call, we have 3G on that site and VF have not been round to upgrade it at all, the signal drops of as you leave the premises, i sure they could have come to an arrangement to mount some proper Antennas on the roof of the warehouse to do it properly. Still, out the window I can see the EE transmitter in the farmers field next door.

    The cost, latency and speed, and black holes just makes it not practical. At best is a moderate ADSL speed but if you move around it is more like ISDN or even 14k dial up. Also if more people started using Mobile data it woudl get even worse as userbility drops of a cliff as the number of users ramp up on a mast.

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