Millions Offline in East Asia & Pacific

According to the World Bank, the East Asia Pacific Region has the world’s largest and fastest growing internet user base, but the region also has gaps in access to the internet between higher and lower income countries.

“More than 40 percent who live in the region have access to the internet and this number has increased twelve-fold since 2000,” reports Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Vice President for the region reports, “Internet access varies significantly across countries in the region. While 85 percent of the people in developed East Asia have access to the internet, this access is less than 20 percent in the Pacific Island Countries.”

Kwakwa said, “The World Bank Group is helping to support digital development by investing in infrastructure in fragile and remote countries where the private sector is unable to do the job. The World Bank Group also supports regulatory reforms in the telecom and internet sector that encourages more private sector investment.”

The East Asia Pacific Region is also home to 30 percent of the world’s offline population which is the second highest after South Asia. The region has six of the top 20 countries with the highest number of people offline.

China and Vietnam have seen large and sustained growth in internet users over the last decade affecting all aspects of business. According to Cindy Mi, Founder of VIPKID in 2013, one of China’s leading education startups the internet enables her online company to teach English to 20,000 children from China, by connecting them with 2,000 instructors in the U.S.

According to Helder Lopes, Vice Finance Minister of Timor-Leste, the lowest percentage of internet users in East Asia is at just 1.1 percent of the population, the lack of internet is hurting his country, and makes it hard to attract investors.

In many countries, one of the greatest challenges is to build the infrastructure and make the internet universal, especially in rural areas. Today, there are many innovative ideas being investigated to expand broadband to underserved rural areas.

Bill Plummer Vice President for Strategic and External Affairs for Huawei Technologies thinks that to usher in true connectivity, it will take a lot of creativity and a lot of investment. He said, “Countries need to include an information and communication technology element in their national development plan.”

The World Bank Group in addition to helping with infrastructure and regulatory reforms, is increasingly integrating ICT components into projects in education, health, and governance to boost connectivity and to create opportunities for improved prosperity.

The thinking is that as the infrastructure improves and the pace of the internet access picks up in poorer countries, a nation like Myanmar, which is in the process of liberalizing its telecom sector, could soon become one of the fastest growing internet markets in the world.

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