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Mobile Leapfrogging and Digital Divide Policy

This paper examines the emerging global phenomenon of mobile leapfrogging in Internet access. Leapfrogging refers to the process in which new Internet users are obtaining access by mobile devices and are skipping the traditional means of access: personal computers. This leapfrogging of PC-based Internet access has been hailed in many quarters as an important means of rapidly and inexpensively reducing the gap in Internet access between developed and developing nations, thereby reducing the need for policy interventions to address this persistent digital divide. This paper offers a critical perspective on the process of mobile leapfrogging. Drawing upon data on Internet access and device penetration from 34 countries, this paper first shows that while greater access to mobile technologies suggests the possibility of a leapfrog effect, the lack of 3G adoption suggests that mobile phones are not yet acting as functionally equivalent substitutes for personal computers. Next, this paper puts forth a set of concerns regarding the limitations and potential shortcomings of mobile-based Internet access relative to traditional PC-based Internet access. This paper illustrates a number of important relative shortcomings in terms of memory and speed, content availability, network architecture, and patterns of information seeking and content creation amongst users. This paper concludes that policymakers should be cautions about promoting mobile access as a solution to the digital divide, and undertake policy reforms that ensure that communities that rely on mobile as their only gateway to the Internet do not get left further behind.

Read the full paper, Mobile Leapfrogging and Digitial Divide Policy (.pdf).