A Surprising Strategy for Harnessing the Internet for Development

Old-fashioned investments are needed to fully obtain the development gains offered by the internet.  Photo credit: ADB 2015.
Old-fashioned investments are needed to fully obtain the development gains offered by the internet. Photo credit: ADB 2015.

To obtain development gains through digital investments, invest in their analog complements: policy and infrastructure.


Universal access to the internet has become a top development priority, but getting there requires affordable, reliable access to fast, “always on” broadband networks. Affordable internet access enables progress on some of the toughest development challenges in the world’s poorest communities.

According to one estimate, increasing the proportion of the world’s population that is connected to the internet to 75% (reaching 5.6 billion people) would add $2 trillion per year to world GDP and help create 140 million jobs—a lofty goal: today, only about 40% of the world’s population (3.2 billion) is connected. But reaping those benefits requires more than adding internet connections. While digital technologies have been spreading, “digital dividends” have not.

Gaining traction will require a major reevaluation of internet development and reform projects. That reevaluation is the focus of the World Bank’s World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends (WDR 16). It highlights the size of the digital divide and shows that a robust program of development in the supporting environment points the way for the development community to make decisive headway on the enormous promise of the internet.

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Meet the expert

  • Tim Kelly
    Lead ICT Policy Specialist, World Bank Group

    Dr. Tim Kelly is a Lead ICT Policy Specialist in the World Bank Group, which he joined in 2008, and is based in the Nairobi office. He wrote the policy chapter of the 2016 edition of the World Development Report, on the theme “Digital Dividends”. He previously managed World Bank reports on Maximizing Mobile and eTransform Africa, as well as the Broadband Strategies Toolkit. On the operational side, he is currently managing ICT programs in Comoros, Malawi, Somalia and Tanzania. He was formerly Head of the Strategy and Policy Unit of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and previously worked with the OECD and Logica.

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   Information and communication technology
   Last updated: May 2017



The views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Asian Development Bank, its management, its Board of Directors, or its members.

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