Understanding digital access and use in the Global South

As it increasingly becomes the “infrastructure underlying all infrastructures” and drives economic and social development, access to the Internet has become a priority for developing countries. According to a 2009 World Bank study, a 10% increase in broadband penetration generates a 1.4% increase in gross domestic product in low-income countries. Recent studies also revealed the household income of Internet users in several developing countries was 19% higher, on average, than non-users. The Internet is an increasingly essential tool for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, notably by creating an environment that spurs business growth, nurtures science and innovation, and empowers people.

Africa exemplifies the potential benefits as well the challenges of improving digital inclusion. While access to mobile telephony has risen tremendously, a new gap is emerging between those who have access to broadband Internet and those who do not. Recent studies found women accessed and used the Internet less than men, reflecting their uneven access to education and therefore income. In a context where public services and economic opportunities are increasingly moving online, access to high-speed broadband networks will be an enabler of sustainable livelihoods. Those without access to them, often women and the poor, risk further exclusion from these benefits.

Public policies, informed by timely and accurate data, can contribute to an affordable and inclusive Internet infrastructure. To ensure that the benefits of broadband are more evenly distributed, such policies must take into account the needs and usage patterns of marginalized populations, particularly women and girls. Unfortunately, such timely and accurate data is not currently available in most developing countries.

This project is implemented by Research ICT Africa, a South Africa-based network that conducts research on information and communication technology, policy, and regulation. Its aim is to facilitate evidence-based and informed policymaking for improved access, use, and application of ICTs for social development and economic growth. Working in collaboration with LirneAsia and Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, Research ICT Africa will collect nationally-representative data from household and individual surveys in fourteen countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This data will generate evidence on Internet access and usage issues facing users and non-users, particularly among marginalized communities, including women; promote evidence-informed policy change through strategic research communications; and build the capacity of Global South research leaders, enabling them to undertake rigorous policy research.

Project ID


Project status



30 months

IDRC Officer

Ruhiya Seward

Total funding

CA$ 2,870,700


Argentina, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Colombia, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Rwanda, Tanzania


Networked Economies

Project Leader

Alison Gillwald


Research ICT Africa

Institution Country

South Africa

Institution Website


Project Leader

Helani Galpaya



Institution Country

Sri Lanka

Institution Website


Project Leader

Roxana Barrantes


Instituto de Estudios Peruanos

Institution Country


Institution Website