Despite a significant drop in prices for information and communication technology (ICT) services globally, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) says broadband Internet remains outside the reach of many in poor countries, particularly in Africa.

The ITU, the main source of international comparison data and statistics on ICT, reports that broadband prices have dropped worldwide by 42 percent from 2008 to 2009.

In its "Measuring the Information Society 2010" report released this week, the ITU stated that most poor countries rank at the low end in terms of access to IT because of the close relationship between ICT uptake and national income.

It said that in 2009 the ICT Price Basket -- which combines the average cost of fixed telephone, mobile cellular and Internet broadband services for 161 countries -- shows that fixed broadband services had the largest price fall, at 42 percent, compared to 25 percent and 20 percent for mobile cellular and fixed telephone services, respectively.

While high-speed Internet access is now available in almost all countries, the ITU stated that fixed broadband penetration in the developing world remains as low as 3.5 percent, compared to 23 percent in developed countries.

It surmised that countries with high income levels pay relatively little for ICT services, while countries with low income levels pay relatively more. The ICT Price Basket corresponded on average to 13 percent of gross national income per capita in 2009, ranging from 1.5 percent in developed countries to 17.5 percent in developing countries.

A regional comparison of prices for fixed broadband services highlights a striking disparity, mainly between Africa and the other regions. On average, a high-speed Internet connection represents 500 percent of average monthly GNI per capita in Africa, making fixed broadband effectively inaccessible for most people in the region.

The report features the latest ICT Development Index (IDI), which ranks 159 countries according to their ICT level and compares 2007 and 2008 scores. One of the main objectives of the IDI is to measure the development potential of ICT, or the extent to which countries can use ICT to enhance growth and development.

The index includes such indicators as households with a computer, the number of fixed broadband Internet subscribers and literacy rates, which can be used to measure ICT access, use and skills as well as help track progress over time.

With Sweden on top of global ICT ranking for the second year in a row, followed by Luxembourg and the Republic of Korea, only three African countries made it in the first 100 in the 2008 IDI. They are Seychelles (66th), Mauritius (72) and South Africa (92).

Though Sierra Leone and Liberia were not included in the 2008 IDI, Ghana, which has been touted to be the ICT hub of West Africa, was ranked 116th behind Cape Verde (102nd). Nigeria and Gambia placed 122nd and 124th, respectively.

The only African country noted as making a substantial increase in Internet usage, and fixed or mobile broadband uptake, is Nigeria.