Digital ecosystems that produce local content and apps are vital for building digital literacy, attracting local users, and serving local needs. Digital services can also address local problems and boost competition in an increasingly international digital-services market. In addition, using the Internet can have a big impact on local businesses, especially small and midsize enterprises (SMEs).
Both the public and the private sectors can encourage adoption and use by facilitating local content development and putting in place policies that make it easier for businesses, especially SMEs, to benefit from digital technology.
One of the most effective steps that governments can take is to fully digitize interactions with their citizens and the provision of government services. Governments also play a direct role in promoting content development by others. Some are encouraging private-sector ICT development by including local businesses in government procurement and e-services programs.
The private sector can contribute to content development and profit directly from its efforts. As economies expand and incomes rise, the experience of some countries, such as India and Brazil, shows that the Internet—particularly the mobile Internet—is emerging as a powerful vehicle for consumer commerce in places where physical retail infrastructure remains underdeveloped. (Approximately 200 million Indians used their cell phones to access the Internet in 2014; mobile connections are expected to represent 70% to 80% of all Internet connections in India in 2018. At $16 billion in 2014, e-commerce sales in Brazil represented about 4% of the nation’s total retail sales of $429 billion—enough to include the country in the top ten e-commerce markets worldwide.) Far-sighted companies and organizations are facilitating content development by helping to incubate new ideas and provide necessary wraparound services to would-be content creators. SMEs drive Internet use and boost their countries’ economies, as well as their own businesses, when they add websites and mobile apps and, as a result, increase revenues and growth.
These four issues are interdependent and need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to any of them. Each country or region will need to identify the set of problems it faces and develop an orchestrated approach, based in part on learning from what has worked elsewhere, that addresses the relevant issues. Segmenting the barriers that countries need to overcome can help to identify which hurdles are the highest in each region or market and to pinpoint the solutions that have been successful (or that have at least made progress) in the context of common circumstances, such as economic and geographic conditions. The report includes a checklist to help policy makers and others assess where their countries stand, evaluate which hurdles are the highest, and determine the best path forward.
Internet for All is a starting point for in-country programs (on which BCG will collaborate), beginning with the Northern Corridor countries in East Africa, that are being designed to expand Internet access and use in 2016. The barriers are real, and the costs are significant. But policy makers and others may want to consider the costs of inaction—of not extending access and use. The consequences of doing nothing are potentially much higher, resulting in, for example, fewer jobs and less economic development, a bigger digital divide, poorer education, worse health care and lower life expectancy.
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