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Much of the rural population in the Middle East Suffers from ‘information poverty’

Lebanon: Wednesday, May 28 - 2003 @ 09:16

The study, conducted by IDC (International Data Corporation) in March 2003 and commissioned by Inmarsat, also highlighted that while fixed line telephony and Internet access is growing in the region, this growth tends to be biased towards urban areas in the Arab MENA countries.

Samer Halawi, regional director for Inmarsat in the Middle East explains: ”The World Bank refers to information poverty as a major contributor to low rural incomes. Perhaps, segments of the rural life that are most affected by information poverty are service centers that are vital to building sustainable economies and income levels such as health and education.” He continues: “For example, students going to schools and universities in an urban environment will always have the advantage of having received a more advanced, more technology-based education. This, in turn, would either widen the wage gap between rural and urban students, or will push for greater migration of rural communities to the city which could result in the destruction of these communities. Telecommunications help communities have a window on the world and gain advantages for their own social and economic development.”

While most of the Gulf States today have the highest fixed line telephony penetration, the study showed that the majority of other countries in the region have either an overall low telephony penetration or a worryingly low one. IDC explains that, while many countries are undertaking initiatives to address the waiting list for telephony connections, the focus of investment and planning has been on urban populations, to the detriment of the rural counterparts. As a result, it is not uncommon to see very high household penetration rates in the urban centers of these countries, while rural areas lack the most basic telecommunications infrastructure.

The study also shows that although much of the Arab MENA region’s Internet access markets are poised for rapid growth in the next years, the expected growth is not only biased towards the more developed markets of the Gulf states, but also towards the urban populations, at the expense of the rural ones. According to IDC, the low Internet penetration among rural communities is caused by the lack of the communications infrastructure in those communities.

Halawi said that satellite based voice and data communications present a cost effective and a quick solution to communities, businesses and governments in areas where telecommunication infrastructure does not exist, too costly to deploy, or cannot support the needs of users.

He concluded: “A lot is being done to bridge the digital divide between us and the developed world. Eliminating information poverty in rural Middle East and North Africa is a responsibility that we share with the governments of this region. This is yet another emerging and pressing issue that will be the focus of our discussions in the next two days.”

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Wednesday, May 28- 2003 @ 9:16 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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