Policy Reform, Economic Growth, and the Digital Divide:An Econometric Analysis

19 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2016

See all articles by David Wheeler

David Wheeler

World Bank - Policy Research Department

Susmita Dasgupta

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG)

Somik V. Lall

World Bank

Date Written: March 2001


The digital divide reflects a gap in telecom access, not lower propensity to use the Internet in poor countries. Promoting access for poor households will help, but pro-competitive policy holds the key to rapid progress in narrowing the divide.

Rapid growth of Internet use in high-income economies has raised the specter of a digital divide that will marginalize developing countries because they can neither afford Internet access nor use it effectively when it is available.

Using a new cross-country data set, Dasgupta, Lall, and Wheeler investigate two proximate determinants of the digital divide: Internet intensity (Internet subscriptions per telephone mainline) and access to telecom services. Surprisingly, they find no gap in Internet intensity.

When differences in urbanization and competition policy are controlled for, low-income countries have intensities as high as those of industrial countries. While income does not seem to matter in this context, competition policy matters a great deal. Low-income countries with high World Bank ratings for competition policy have significantly higher Internet intensities.

The authors' finding on Internet intensity implies that the digital divide is not really new, but reflects a persistent gap in the availability of mainline telephone services. After identifying mobile telephones as a promising new platform for Internet access, they use panel data to study the determinants of mobile telephone diffusion during the past decade. Their results show that income explains part of the diffusion lag for poor countries, but they also highlight the critical role of policy. Developing countries whose policies promote economic growth and private sector competition have experienced much more rapid diffusion of mobile telephone services.

Simulations based on the econometric results suggest that feasible reforms could sharply narrow the digital divide during the next decade for many countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The authors' review of the literature also suggests that direct access promotion would yield substantial benefits for poor households and that cost-effective intervention strategies are now available.

This paper - a product of Infrastructure and Environment, Development Research Group - is part of a larger effort in the group to identify effective policies for narrowing the digital divide.

Suggested Citation

Wheeler, David and Dasgupta, Susmita and Lall, Somik V., Policy Reform, Economic Growth, and the Digital Divide:An Econometric Analysis (March 2001). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 2567. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=632636

David Wheeler (Contact Author)

World Bank - Policy Research Department ( email )

1818 H Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
United States

HOME PAGE: http://econ.worldbank.org/staff/dwheeler

Susmita Dasgupta

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG) ( email )

1818 H. Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
United States
202-473-2679 (Phone)
202-522-3230 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://econ.worldbank.org/staff/sdasgupta

Somik V. Lall

World Bank ( email )

1818 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
United States

HOME PAGE: http://econ.worldbank.org/staff/slall

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics