Digital divide in Asia- Pacific region could worsen inequalities; ESCAP

With about 52 per cent of people in the Asia-Pacific region offline and denied access to new technologies, the UN fears that the so called “digital divide” could exacerbate inequalities and leave societies more vulnerable.

Despite the Countries across Asia and the Pacific using new technologies to contain Covid-19 pandemic, they still have many gaps to fill in the digital world, according to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

ESCAP Regional Director Tiziana Bonapace said that the digital divide became very real during the pandemic. “It risks becoming the new face of inequality in the region,” she said.

Overcoming urban-rural differences 

ESCAP said that millions of migrants across Asia-Pacific who had to return to their homes, especially in rural areas from urban centres, had lost access to high-speed Internet and good connectivity as the pandemic locked down cities and closed businesses. “Their children, who had high-speed connectivity and were able to take online classes while in cities, could not access remote learning in villages due to poor connectivity.” ESCAP said.

Noting that the situation required a two-pronged approach, Bonapace said “we need a big push on the supply side. More investments are needed in the fibre optic infrastructure that transports data,” she said, noting also that digital literacy and skills should be nurtured to create a demand for the services.”

Connectivity

Bonapace said that the governments in collaboration with private sector could take a lead in deploying fibre optic systems. High costs involved deployment of fibre optic cables could be reduced if these are coupled with construction of infrastructure such as power lines, highways. This means digging once digging once for multiple uses, she added.

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