Mobile phones empower the poor – UN

2010-10-16 12:27

Geneva – Mobile phones, spreading faster than any other information technology, can improve the livelihood of the poorest people in developing countries, according to the UN.

But governments must design responsive policies to ensure that the benefits reached the broadest number in the most effective way, the UN Conference on Trade and Development said in the Information Economy Report released this week.

Mobile phone subscriptions would reach 5 billion this year, almost one per person on the planet, said conference secretary-general Supachai Panitchpakdi.

Penetration in developed countries is more than 100%, with many people having more than one phone or subscription.

In developing countries, the subscription rate is now 58% and rising rapidly, with the rate in the poorest least developed countries up at 25% from only 2% a few years ago, UN figures show.

Mobile phones have spawned a wealth of micro enterprises, offering work to people with little education and few resources. Examples include selling airtime on the streets and refurbishing handsets.

The key to successful use of mobile is affordability, the report argues, a lesson not learnt by many African states.

“India has shown us the way in making it as cheap as possible so everyone can gain access to this kind of equipment,” Supachai said.

Governments need to monitor how poor people are using mobile phones and design policies to build on that.

And they must ensure that poor people can use their phones.

At the end of 2008, almost half the rural population in least developed countries were not covered by mobile signals.

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