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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 December, 2003, 00:33 GMT
Digital divide figures 'flawed'
Computer users in Bangladesh
Few surveys of net users are done in developing countries
As world leaders gather in Geneva to discuss the digital divide, a UN body has suggested that the technology gap may not be as wide as was believed.

The International Telecommunication Union said the flawed statistics on internet use worldwide were giving a misleading picture of the situation across the world.

"The number of internet users in most developing countries is usually based on government guesstimates or vague estimates", said Vanessa Gray, report co-author.

Part of the problem was that most internet surveys are carried out in industrialised countries by private companies.

By comparison, not a single net study has been carried out in 59 of the poorest countries, said the report.

Skills gap

"A close link exists between the digital and statistical divide", says Michael Minges, lead author of the ITU report.

The study highlighted that many developing nations conducting surveys were being surprised by the number of people online.

In Peru, a survey found twice as many users in the capital, Lima, than had previously been estimated for the entire country.

Mobile phone user in Senegal
Mobile phone use is growing in poor countries
In Mexico, a recent study uncovered twice as many users than earlier estimates.

The UN body said these findings suggested that the digital divide may not be as wide in some places as was earlier assumed.

It also suggested that the key issues for the world leaders meeting in Geneva were the cost of computers and going online, together with having the skills to use the latest technology.

The UN communications agency has put forward its own way of measuring the technology gap, listing 23 factors that should be taken into account.

These include figures such as how many homes have electricity, how many use computers at work or in school and the cost of going online.

Overcoming divisions

The report came ahead of the World Summit on the Information Society, which is intended to look at ways of expanding technology to developing countries.

The aim of the summit is to lay down the principles which should underpin the development of the information society and come up with proposals to reduce the divisions between rich and poor countries in their access to technology.

Delegates have managed to agree on most of the key sticking points to be tackled at the United Nations gathering, which runs from 10-12 December in Geneva.

But they remain divided over the issue of who will pay for the development of information and communication infrastructures in poor countries.


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