NEW REPORT: Limitations of Mobile Internet Access in Developing World

Policy Changes Needed Before Mobile Technology Can Effectively Close Digital Divide
Published:   April 1, 2013

Washington, DC —  Mobile technology has been hailed as an efficient way to close the digital divide between developing and developed countries, but a new report published by the New America Foundation’s Media Policy Initiative shows extensive limitations to accessing the Internet via mobile devices that must be addressed in order to make it an effective solution.

In 2011, roughly 70 percent of people in developed countries used the Internet, while about 24 percent in developing countries were connected. “Mobile leapfrogging” — a term that refers to new Internet users accessing the web via their mobile devices and skipping the traditional personal computer — has been lauded as a means of rapidly and inexpensively reducing the gap in Internet access.

However, the report, “Mobile Leapfrogging and Digital Divide Policy,” shows a number of concerns regarding the limitations of mobile-based Internet access relative to traditional PC-based Internet access. Drawing upon current research from a wide range of disciplines, the study addresses potential shortcomings that include memory, speed, content availability, network architecture, patterns of information seeking, and content creation among users.

In addition, the report examines data on Internet access and device penetration from 34 countries to show that although greater access to mobile technologies suggests the possibility of a leapfrogging pattern, the lack of 3G adoption suggests mobile phones are in many cases not yet acting as functional substitutes for personal computers.

Based on these findings, authors Philip M. Napoli and Jonathan A. Obar argue that policymakers should be cautious about promoting mobile access as a solution to the digital divide, and undertake policy reforms to ensure that communities that rely on mobile as their only gateway to the Internet do not get further left behind.

To read the full report, click here.

To interview the report’s authors, please contact Clara Hogan.

Related Programs