Digital technologies have spread rapidly in much of the world. Digital dividends—that is, the broader development benefits from using these technologies—have lagged behind. In many instances, digital technologies have boosted growth, expanded opportunities, and improved service delivery. Yet their aggregate impact has fallen short and is unevenly distributed. For digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere requires closing the remaining digital divide, especially in internet access. But greater digital adoption will not be enough. To get the most out of the digital revolution, countries also need to work on the “analog complements”—by strengthening regulations that ensure competition among businesses, by adapting workers’ skills to the demands of the new economy, and by ensuring that institutions are accountable.
Digital technologies—the internet, mobile phones, and all the other tools to collect, store, analyze, and share information digitally—have spread quickly. More households in developing countries own a mobile phone than have access to electricity or clean water, and nearly 70 percent of the bottom fifth of the population in developing countries own a mobile phone. The number of internet users has more than tripled in a decade—from 1 billion in 2005 to an estimated 3.2 billion at the end of 2015.
This means that businesses, people, and governments are more connected than ever before. The digital revolution has brought immediate private benefi ts—easier communication and information, greater convenience, free digital products, and new forms of leisure. It has also created a profound sense of social connectedness and global community. But have massive investments in information and communication technologies (ICTs) generated faster growth, more jobs, and better services? Indeed, are countries reaping sizable digital dividends?