Prices of information and communication technology services are falling worldwide, and services continue to grow, propelled by mobile cellular use, but broadband internet remains outside the reach of many in poor countries, the United Nations telecoms agency said on February 23 2010.

The UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Measuring the Information Society 2010 report "confirms that despite the recent economic downturn, the use of ICT services has continued to grow worldwide," ITU’s Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid said in releasing the study, the UN News Service said.
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All 159 countries featured in the report’s ICT Development Index (IDI) have improved their levels, and mobile cellular technology continues to be a key driver of growth. In 2010, ITU expects the global number of mobile cellular subscriptions to top five billion.

"At the same time, the report finds that the price of telecommunication services is falling – a most encouraging development," Al Basheer, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, said.

Fixed broadband services showed the largest price fall (42 per cent), compared to 25 and 20 per cent in mobile cellular and fixed telephone services respectively, yet a person in the developing world is nearly seven times less likely to have access than someone in a developed country.

The world’s top 10 most advanced ICT economies feature eight countries from Northern Europe, with Sweden topping the IDI for the second year in a row. The Republic of Korea and Japan rank third and eighth, respectively.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain top the list of Arab states, with Russia and Belarus leading ICT development in the former Soviet Union. In Africa, only South Africa, Seychelles and Mauritius are included in the top 100.

Given the close relationship between ICT uptake and national income, most poor countries rank at the low end of the IDI. In particular, the least developed countries (LDCs), many of them in Africa, still have very limited access to ICTs, especially in terms of broadband infrastructure and household access.

The gap between the high and the low groups is still significant although it is shrinking slightly, going from a value of 5.5 in 2002 to 5.3 in 2008, ITU Statistician Esperanza Magpantay told a news conference in New York.

"What we have found in our research is that sometimes it takes a certain threshold level of use of internet and new technology before the economy and the country take off and you have the network effect and all the other benefits kicking in," she said.

Mobile cellular technology continues to be the main driver of ICT growth, especially in the developing world, where average penetration surpassed the 50 per cent mark in 2009. Today, more than 70 economies worldwide have surpassed the 100 per cent penetration mark, with developed countries averaging 113 per cent by the end of 2009.

While high-speed internet access is now available in almost all countries, fixed broadband penetration in the developing world remains as low as 3.5 per cent, compared to 23 per cent in developed countries.