The world's mobile bills are getting easier to pay

The ITU reports big gains in affordability over the past year

Mobile broadband has gotten much more affordable in the past year, while wired Internet service has grown further out of reach for some of the world's poorest people.

That's according to an annual report by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an arm of the United Nations, which tracks IT development levels in 167 economies. 

The average affordability of mobile broadband has improved by between 20 percent and 30 percent in the past year, the report said. This doesn't mean anyone saw their phone bill cut by that much, but between what happened to incomes and prices, it got that much easier to pay the bill.

Meanwhile, fixed-line broadband got less affordable in what the ITU calls the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), a list of 48 places like Afghanistan, Rwanda and Haiti. On average across those countries, wired broadband cost 70 percent of the gross national product per capita last year. This year, the figure rose to 98 percent. That suggests average people in those countries would have to spend much of their income to get broadband at home.

Not surprisingly, mobile is the way most of the world is getting on the Internet. Since 2010, mobile broadband subscriptions around the world have grown more than four-fold, from 0.8 billion to an estimated 3.5 billion. Wired broadband subscriptions, growing much more slowly, are at only 0.8 billion today.

Part of the reason more people are getting online with their phones is that they can: In just the past year, there were 100 million more people covered by mobile networks, according to the ITU. That still leaves about 350 million people on Earth, more than the population of the U.S., without any cellular coverage.

Counting all the ways of getting online, 46 percent of the world's households will be on the Internet by the end of this year, up from 30 percent five years ago. But the growth of Internet access is slowing, down to 6.9 percent this year from 7.4 percent in 2014.

South Korea ranks first out of 167 countries under the ITU's composite measure of information and communications technology development. It's followed by Denmark and Iceland. The U.S. is at 15 and the African nation of Chad ranks last. Costa Rica boasts the biggest gain since 2010, up 23 places in the rankings.

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
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