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November 20, 2008

Asia-Pacific Internet connectivity
Malaysia among top five with internet access in Asia Pacific

Malaysia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Singapore are the most connected countries in the Asia Pacific region, with 55 to 80 percent of their populations having access to the Internet by 2007, reported Malaysian national news agency Bernama, quoting a report from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Unescap).

In contrast, the bottom five -- Myanmar, Timor-Leste, Tajikistan, Bangladesh and Cambodia -- have less than one percent of their population using the Internet while the average for region is 20 percent.

Unescap said that despite significant progress that Asia and the Pacific had made in utilising information communication technology (ICT), a significant disparity still remained in access to the Internet between high-income and low-income countries.

It said the wide gap appeared despite its study which showed that both phone and Internet use had increased over the last five years since the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was first held in 2003.

"How to overcome this 'digital divide' is the focus of a meeting being held in Bangkok with participants compromising ICT experts from governments, the academia, UN and other international agencies and the private sector, including from Microsoft," Unescap said in a statement.

The agency said the number of mobile phone subscribers increased by nearly 70 times in South Asia between 2000 and 2007 and by over 40 times in Central Asia while in Southeast Asia, which has a relatively more developed market, the number of subscribers still grew by about 10 times.

"Yet, the growth is the fastest in the poorest countries in the region. The least developed countries in the region as a group had seen their mobile phone users increase by close to 80 times," it said.

The expert group meeting, WSIS+5 and Emerging Issues in Asia and the Pacific, is intended as a platform to discuss technical aspects of ICT development and solicit expert views on key issues -- such as problems with
infrastructure -- which need to be addressed at the regional level.

Among issues being discussed are the current status of ICT and the implementation of the WSIS Plan of Action in the Asia-Pacific region and key emerging issues that are standing in the way ICT connectivity in developing nations.

Also in the agenda is the integration of ICT in effective disaster risk reduction programmes, for example, by providing technical solutions such as region-wide early warning systems, and better communications systems to assist with disaster recovery.

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