< Back to Tools

Asia's Digital Divide

Internet access across Asia is highly variable, spread across different networks, devices, and prices, opening up divisions in digital literacy.

The Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy writes,

"By one estimate 21.5% of Asia’s population has web access. However, this figure includes web access via thirdparty vendors (internet cafes) compared to home or business access and does not acknowledge the technically inferior systems and slower transmission speeds, poor reliability, or inferior network capacities that plague ICT infrastructure in Asia. Thailand, for example, does not currently have a 3G network, while the Philippines only issued 3G licences in 2005, Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, in 2006, and Vietnam as recently as March 2010.

While the deployment of 3G networks in Asia represents a significant innovation aimed at closing the technical divide between emerging and developed economies, their deployment has not eradicated the paucity of internet and home / small business based internet access. Much of Indonesia, for example, has nominal to no 3G network coverage (confined mostly to the Jakarta region reflecting the economies of network density and deployment costs); a story that is repeated for the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Equally, despite falling technology costs, particularly for cellular telephony, internet access remains an expensive communications technology for the vast bulk of Asia’s population. The cost of hardware requirements (computers or "smartphones") in addition to monthly subscription charges places it out of the reach of most Southeast Asian households, while the intermittent nature of network connectivity make web based communications relatively slow and unreliable. Where developed economies increasingly enjoy fibre optic networks and high-speed next generation networks, for the vast majority of Southeast Asia’s 750 million people basic cellular connectivity remains their sole exposure to ICT — limiting the range of web based applications and thus the economic opportunities available to them.


LKYSPP showcases the digital divide in the life of a Balinese farmer, whose situation highlights the barriers that exist to realizing the development promise of ICT.

"Mr. Sudono has a modest two-room house adjacent to his rice paddy...He would like his sons to learn to operate a computer and be conversant with the internet and eventually go to a university. But he cannot afford a computer, let alone the monthly subscription charges for internet access. His oldest son, aged 13, is sometimes treated to an hour at the local internet cafe, which has three old computers and which the owner "rent out" at US$1 per hour. The only other alternative to access the internet is to use a portable device and log on to a local "hotspot". There are four local "hotspots" in Lovina, mostly for tourists to access the internet while on their holiday. But Mr. Sodono cannot afford a laptop, notebook, or iPad for his children, and the Rp25,000 (US$2.70) per hour access charge is almost three times what the local internet cafe charge and beyond his means. At their school, Mr. Sudono’s children do not have computers or internet access. Despite the learning advantages and opportunities he knows web access may provide for his children, Mr. Sudono cannot afford this luxury. Unlike children in developed countries, Mr. Sudono’s sons will grow up without the benefits of internet access, or the luxury of owning a computer. Mr. Sudono’s story is typical of the vast majority of households in Indonesia, where 19 million households (or roughly 40% of the population) remain without access to electricity let alone enjoy access to the internet."

Average: 1.9 (7 votes)


LKYSPP Asian Trends Monitoring Bulletin, December 2010, pg 6-7:

The World Bank. 2010. Employment in agriculture (% of total employment). Retrieved from

The World Bank. 2010. Employment in agriculture (% of total employment). Retrieved from

UNCTAD. 2005. ICT and e-business: what developing countries stand to
gain. Issues in Brief, 11, 1-2.

Internet World Stats. 2010. Internet Usage in Asia. Retrieved 20 December 2010 from http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats3.htm

Jakarta Globe (2010a) SBY inaugurates ‘Blackout-Free’ Era. July 28. http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/business/sby-inaugurates-blackout-free-era/388131