In the past decade, there has been a boom in mobile phone subscriptions, jumping from fewer than one billion in 2000 to six billion in 2012. Seventy-seven per cent of those subscriptions are now owned by individuals in developing countries. Digital access, on the other hand, trails far behind with only 35 per cent of the world actually online. But this is likely to improve, particularly with the rise of smartphones, which currently make up about a quarter of the 4 billion phones in use globally.
Even with expected improvement in technology and falling prices of production, increasing mobile access relies on more than simply lowering the prices of handsets. Lack of access to a mobile phone is tied to factors such as gender and economic inequality. In developing countries, for example, women are 21per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone.
India has a high rate of mobile penetration, with 76.8 per cent of its 1.2 billion population using mobile phones. Gender norms also have a role in whose hands mobile phones fall into, as only 28 per cent of India’s mobile phone owners are women, versus 40 per cent for men.
Lower prices are expected to help make smartphones more accessible in India, as they currently only account for 10 million of the estimated 960 million mobile phone users in the country.
While Brazil has a high mobile phone penetration rate (99.8 per cent), the massive economic divide contributes to some of the challenges in mobile access in the country. According to a recent study, many residents of Brazil’s slums (favelas) share phones or steal them because of the outrageous prices of mobile phones and unfamiliarity with technology. The country also has the third-highest rates for mobile services in the world. Smartphone penetration in Brazil is at about 14 per cent, and will only increase if the price of mobile services and handsets decrease.
The United Kingdom has its own divide, with smartphone penetration at 51.3 per cent. However, ownership of a smartphone does not necessarily mean that the owner understands how to use it. Many users only use them to simply make phone calls and send text messages. Users might be unaware that their rights may be diminished through filtering and blocking that automatically comes with many smartphones in the UK. This only shows how important it is to build literacy around technology across the globe. Access also does not simply rely on prices, it also relies on 3G infrastructure.
Thanks to improved mobile phone technology, and improved networks, more people will be online, bringing us a step forward in not only increasing mobile access, but also bridging the digital divide — and that increase in availability only makes it more important to protect free expression online.
Sara Yasin is an Editorial Assistant at Index on Censorship
ISPs, Google, Facebook, eBay, Yahoo and the Open Rights Group sign letter saying bill threatens free speech
In a letter published in the Financial Times today, digital rights campaigners and consumer and industry groups argue a key amendment in the Digital Economy bill
is “poor law making” that will encourage site blocking and damage free expression.
We regret that the House of Lords last week adopted amendment 120A to the Digital Economy Bill. This amendment not only significantly changes the injunctions procedure in the UK but will lead to an increase in Internet service providers blocking websites accused of illegally hosting copyrighted material without cases even reaching a judge. The amendment seeks to address the legitimate concerns of rights-holders but would have unintended consequences which far outweigh any benefits it could bring.
Endorsing a policy that would encourage the blocking of websites by UK broadband providers or other Internet companies is a very serious step for the UK to take. There are myriad legal, technical and practical issues to reconcile before this can be considered a proportionate and necessary public policy option. In some cases, these may never be reconciled. These issues have not even been considered in this case.
The Lords have been thoughtful in their consideration of the Bill to date. It is therefore bitterly disappointing that the House has allowed an amendment with obvious shortcomings to proceed without challenging its proponents to consider and address the full consequences. Put simply, blocking access as envisaged by this clause would both widely disrupt the Internet in the UK and elsewhere, threatening freedom of speech and the open Internet, without reducing copyright infringement as intended. To rush through such a controversial proposal at the tail end of a Parliament, without any kind of consultation with consumers or industry, is very poor law making.
We are particularly concerned that a measure of this kind as a general purpose policy could have an adverse impact on the reputation of the UK as a place to do online business and conflict with the broader objectives of Digital Britain. This debate has created a tension between specific interest groups and the bigger prize of promoting a policy framework that supports our digital economy and appropriately balances rights and responsibilities. All parties should take steps to safeguard this prize and place it at the heart of public policy in this area.
Tom Alexander, CEO, Orange UK
Richard Allan, Director of Policy EU, Facebook
Neil Berkett, Chief Executive, Virgin Media
Matt Brittin, Managing Director, Google UK and Ireland
Charles Dunstone, Chairman, Talk Talk Group
Jessica Hendrie-Liaño, Chair, Internet Services Providers Association (ISPA)
Jill Johnstone, International Director, Consumer Focus
Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group
Mark Lewis, Managing Director, eBay UK Ltd
Ian Livingston, Chief Executive, BT Group
Professor Sarah Oates, University of Glasgow
Dr Jenny Pickerill, University of Leicester
Mark Rabe, Managing Director, Yahoo! UK and Ireland
Dr Paul Reilly, University of Leicester
Jess Search, Founder, Shooting People independent film makers
Professor Ian Walden, Queen Mary, University of London
Tom Watson MP