Tuesday, November 11, 2003


The number of mobile phones in the world has apparently surpassed the number of fixed line phones. I think the rapid growth of mobile connectivity has generally been seen as reducing the digital divide. I wonder the degree to which this is so.

Surely there are many people (in developing countries) who have obtained telephone service for the first time using a cell phone. Indeed there are clearly people using wireless in rural areas that have not yet been wired.

Yet I see many people adding a cell phone to their collection of communication devices that already includes one or more fixed line phones in their offices, fixed lines to their homes, and cable and DSL connections. Indeed I would guess that far more mobile phones are acquired by those who are already connected, than by the disconnected.

Thus it seems quite possible that the major effect of the introduction of mobile phones has been to add to the connectivity of the already connected – complementing home and office phone services with personal phone services. The effect of connecting the unwired, important as it undoubtedly is, may well be less extensive than the effect of adding to the connectivity of the wired.

And thus, the mobile may be more adding to the digital divide than bridging it.

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