Mobile internet access has enormous potential to boost income and socioeconomic opportunities in developing markets, but failing to make it accessible to disadvantaged groups could further embed and deepen inequalities. That’s the key finding of a report published today by Vodafone confirmed.
The report, Towards a More Equal World: The Mobile Internet Revolution, looks at how the shift to smartphones and data services in emerging markets represents a turning point. The specific opportunities of mobile internet access for disadvantaged groups are identified and policy steps governments can take to address inequalities are recommended.
The report looks at how education affects how people use their devices and the value they derive from mobile internet access. It concludes that mobile internet access is pivotal in reducing information asymmetries and equalising access to wider social networks and opportunities, but adds that digital literacy is also important in ensuring that potential is realised.
The report also finds that developing locally-produced information and apps increases the future usefulness of mobile internet access, but represents a challenge because of the high costs of creating ‘hyperlocal’ apps, including those offering detailed agricultural information.
It says that investment is needed to provide access to reliable, high-quality broadband networks as well as 2G networks for voice and SMS. Incentives will need to reflect increasingly competing and collaborative infrastructure solutions, and issues of quality and security are becoming more significant. Finally, the report says, access to spectrum in sufficient quantities at market-determined prices is critical to continued investment in mobile broadband networks.
The report draws on three in-depth studies, each examining different facets of the challenge. The first study looked at Smartphones and gender inequality in Kenya, where women face barriers to educational, entrepreneurial and social activities. t was found that women place greater emphasis on the importance of smartphones in connecting them to their family and the world beyond. Over two-thirds of business women experienced an increase in income due to a smartphone. However, even with equivalent education and income levels, women use their smartphone for fewer tasks and less frequently. Education is a central driver of smartphone ownership and use, whereas income is not.
The second study looked at smartphones and micro-entrepreneurship in Ghana, where the availability of mobile technology enhances business survival and sustainability through greater access to new ideas, information and tools. It was found that smartphones increased opportunities and seven out of 10 micro-entrepreneurs would face difficulties continuing their business without a smartphone.
The third study looked at smartphones and small farmers in India, where the impact of information and mobile access on yields can lead to a 50 per cent increase in a small farmer’s revenue where the correct inputs are used and better knowledge is applied. A 1 per cent increase in yields leads to a 0.6 – 1.3 per cent reduction in poverty, having a greater impact than prices alone.
Diane Coyle, Professor of Economics at the University of Manchester, said: “In the years since the start of the global financial crisis, inequality has come to the forefront of the policy agenda. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals demonstrate the commitment of governments to addressing inequality. For emerging market economies, growth and poverty reduction are still vital challenges, but there is also a need to ensure the benefits of growth are shared widely.”
The report is available to download here.