The Centrality of Electricity to ICT use in Low-Income Countries

25 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2013 Last revised: 9 Apr 2017

See all articles by Laura Armey

Laura Armey

Naval Postgraduate School

Laura Hosman

Illinois Institute of Technology

Date Written: February 28, 2013


Recent times have seen the emergence of an entire body of scholarly literature devoted to defining, conceptualizing, debating, measuring, and addressing the “digital divide.” Although many believe that information and communication technologies (ICTs) are primary in the potential to improve quality of life around the world, one important factor is too often ignored in discussions of their importance and employment: electricity. Most authors focus on long run institutional changes as key to driving internet uptake, but overlooking the centrality of electricity to any ICT for development (ICT4D) initiative in low-income locations has enormous consequences; countless initiatives have failed to consider the (in)ability to power the technology that is central to such development efforts. The present article seeks to address this gap by emphasizing the primacy of electricity in ICT4D initiatives. Utilizing a unique dataset that avoids the issues associated with unreliably-measured and inequitably-distributed grid power, we examine the drivers of Internet adoption in low-income countries. We find robust evidence that increasing the distribution of electricity within under-served countries – and thereby making electricity available to a larger proportion of the population – significantly increases the number of Internet users. Arguably, improvements in infrastructure may bring about significant changes in Internet use, even in places where improvements in education and political representation remain illusive. Subsequent to the presentation of these findings, their relevant policy implications are discussed.

Keywords: Digital Divide, Development, Telecommunications, Internet, ICT, Diffusion of Technology

JEL Classification: H54, L86, L94, L96, L98, O30, O38, Q20, Q40

Suggested Citation

Armey, Laura and Hosman, Laura, The Centrality of Electricity to ICT use in Low-Income Countries (February 28, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Laura Armey (Contact Author)

Naval Postgraduate School ( email )

United States

Laura Hosman

Illinois Institute of Technology ( email )

Stuart Graduate School of Business
565 W. Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60661
United States

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