MENA rural areas suffering from 'information poverty' according to IDC

The rural population of the Middle East is seriously under-served by telecomms services in comparison to urban counterparts, according to research from IDC

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By  Mark Sutton Published  May 20, 2003

A new study of telecoms and Internet penetration in the Middle East & North Africa region shows a serious gap between rural and urban areas in terms of service. The study, conducted by IDC on behalf of satellite communications operator Inmarsat, shows that rural areas, home to 42% of the population in the MENA region, are seriously under-served with communications infrastructure, with negative effects on literacy and economic growth for these areas.

Samer Halawi, regional director for Inmarsat commented: “Our rural population, which constitutes 42% of the region, continues to lag behind urban centres in its access to knowledge and information. This, we believe, is one form of poverty and one that has direct implications on the social and economic growth of these communities.”

According to IDC’s findings, which will be presented at the Arab Telecom and Internet Forum in Beirut next week, telephony is highly skewed towards urban areas and the more developed Gulf countries. Telephony penetration was 14% in urban areas in 2002, while rural areas only had 2.3%.

The study draws links between levels of literacy, social and economic growth and the provision of communications facilities, suggesting that rural areas are at risk of stagnation as a gap opens up between them and urban populations.

However, because of the low level of current infrastructure in rural areas, a lesser population density and a population that is poorer and less literate than their urban counterparts, telecoms providers have been reluctant to invest in improving services. Inmarsat will be presenting ways to tackle this divide at the forum, to help alleviate rural information poverty.

“There is no doubt of the tremendous efforts that governments as well as the private sector have been putting in bridging the information divide between our world and the West; however, the dynamics of investments and revenues in the telecommunication market presents tremendous challenges in extending the same level of services to rural areas,” Halawi said.

“We believe in the role of the technology private sector as a complementary and necessary one to those of governments. We hope to demonstrate the viability of pilot projects run by the technology private sector, in delivering solutions that have the potential of helping deliver information as knowledge to those deprived from it,” he added.

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