The United Nations launched today an interactive map of the information superhighway to show policy makers and investors the location of the missing links in the digital divide in the Asia-Pacific region.
“In Asia and the Pacific, what we call the ‘digital divide’ is in fact an income divide, a gender divide, an education divide and a knowledge divide,” said Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), which released the maps jointly with the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The ITU Interactive Terrestrial Transmission/ESCAP Asia Pacific Information Superhighway Maps aims to play an important role in efforts to bring affordable information and communication technology (ICT) and broadband connectivity to all.
“Rising inequality – both income and non-income – poses one of the greatest challenges in Asia-Pacific and technological progress has often widened these gaps, separating those with education and knowledge from those without,” Heyzer added at the launch, which coincided with the start of the Connect Asia-Pacific Summit and the back-to-back ITU Telecom World 2013 being held this week in Bangkok, Thailand.
In his video message for the Summit, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted the stark contrast in prosperity and development between high-income countries and the least developed, particularly the landlocked developing nations and small island developing States.
“Increased connectivity can help bridge this gap,” Ban said. “It is important that we make the best use of technology to empower people with the information, knowledge and means to improve their lives.”
Also speaking to the Summit participants, ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré said the maps will empower network planners, policy-makers and regulators from developing countries, and provide a “powerful tool” to assess marker opportunities.
“We have seen significant progress in the area of broadband connectivity with the landing of submarine cables in many countries, along with the expansion of national and cross-border fibre backbone networks, as well as mobile and wireless services,” Touré said.
The region has both the world’s highest and lowest penetration rates for fixed broadband, with the Republic of Korea at 37.56 per cent and Myanmar at 0.01 per cent, according to UN figures.
During the launch, participants also discussed the region’s main transport networks – the Asian Highway and the Trans-Asian Railways, and stressed the importance of laying fibre-optic cables in coordination with the work on the railways and roads to ensure appropriate cost savings.
Also today, ESCAP reported that while the Asia-Pacific region continues to outperform the rest of the world in economic progress, the strong trade and investment growth has been accompanied by rising inequalities.
According to the Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report 2013, ‘Turning the Tide: Towards Inclusive Trade and Investment, Asia and the Pacific registered the highest growth rates for exports and imports in the world, at 5.2 per cent and 5.9 per cent, respectively.
While continued growth of trade and investment remain top priorities in the region, the quality and patterns of growth must be enhanced to produce more inclusive societies, the report noted.
Additionally, the report found that unacceptably high trade costs undermine benefits for least developed and landlocked developing countries. In most cases, as shown in the ESCAP-World Bank Trade Cost database, it still costs more for Asian subregions to trade with each other than to trade with developed economies outside the region.
Its release is part of the events being held in Bangkok for the Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Week, which is due to be attended by more than 100 government officials from over 30 countries in the region, according to its website.
In addition, ESCAP and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) today held a conference on regional cooperation in advancing responsible business practices.
Key conference findings suggest that Asia-Pacific governments should take a stronger lead in guiding and promoting responsible business practices and that this can be done by promoting a business climate that rewards good behaviour.
A Memorandum of Understanding to solidify cooperation and collaboration between the two organizations was signed at the conference.