Improved Internet connectivity and skills have helped many countries to cope with the health and economic crisis from COVID-19. Yet the pandemic has raised the bar for the digital transition and underscores the need to close the digital divides that risk leaving some people and firms worse off than others in a post-COVID world, according to a new OECD report.
With some Internet providers reporting increases in traffic of 60% since the start of the pandemic, as people adapt to living and working online, the OECD's latest Digital Economy Outlook reveals the gaps between and within countries in access to fast and reliable Internet. For example, the share of fibre in fixed broadband subscriptions in OECD countries ranges from 82% in Korea and 79% in Japan to below 5% in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece,
Israel and the United Kingdom, with high-speed connections often sparse in rural areas. OECD countries count roughly twice the level of high-speed mobile Internet subscriptions per inhabitant and three times the level of fixed broadband subscriptions as non-OECD countries.
"Digital technologies have helped our economies and societies to avoid a complete standstill during the COVID-19 crisis, and have enabled us to learn more about the virus, accelerate the search for a vaccine and track the development of the pandemic," said OECD Deputy Secretary-General Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen. "But the crisis has also accentuated our dependence on digital technologies and exposed the reality of the digital divides between and within countries. We are at a turning point in the digital transformation, and the shape of our economies and societies post-COVID will depend on how well we can progress and narrow these divides."
The digital transformation was accelerating prior to COVID-19 as an increasing number of governments place digital strategies at the heart of their policy agendas. Surging demand for bandwidth-intensive communication services from e-commerce, teleworking, online social activities and increased cross-border collaboration by governments and academics should spur further progress. Today's reliance on digital solutions has also added urgency to concerns around privacy and security by creating a fertile environment for cybercriminals.
Average mobile data usage per subscription in OECD countries already quadrupled in the four years to June 2019, and prices for high-usage mobile broadband fell by 59% over 2013-19, according to the report, which...