page considers digital divides in Oceania, affecting states
such as Tonga, Niue, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Nauru and the Cook
It covers -
For a reader of aggregate ITU statistics about per capita
phone and computer access it might seem surprising to talk
about digital divides in Oceania, because teledensity for
the 'region' appears to be significantly higher than that
in North America and the European Union (and more than ten
times that in Africa in 2001).
Sadly, that is incorrect. Oceania is a construct that encompasses
economies such as Australia
such as Papua New Guinea with a population of several
million and microstates such as Niue and the Cook Islands,
some with populations of under 3,000
states such as the Solomon Islands and PNG
whose only substantial resources are their territorial
waters and ccTLD
with almost universal literacy and nations with low literacy
of those states are dependent on foreign aid (eg US$155m
of Palau's US$174m GDP, by some estimates, is attributable
to foreign aid) and remittances from expatriates; indeed
over half the population of some of the smaller states such
as Niue now lives in other countries.
Some, such as Nauru (which burnt most of its SWF),
are bankrupt. Others, such as Papua New Guinea and the Solomons,
are resource rich but characterised by some observers as
failed states because of rampant crime, pervasive kleptocracy
and declining living standards.
Many statistical tabulations include Australia and New Zealand
in Oceania; the region however includes several of the world's
least developed countries (Solomon Islands, Niue, Tokelau,
Cook Islands, West Samoa, Vanuatu, Timor-Leste, Kiribati
Digital divides in Oceania have arguably been under-recognised
and 'crisis' is conceptualised as occurring in Africa
rather than in "a palm-clad tropical island paradise",
have not dug into the figures and for example differentiated
between the circumstances of Australia, Papua New Guinea,
Tonga and Kiribati,
states are too small (or merely too remote from CNN cameras
and angst about the global 'war on terror') to feature
on the 'aid radar' and in World Bank, UNDP or ITU statistical
have not explored economic/gender differences in ICT use
within particular nations.
As of 2004 population and GDP (US$m purchasing power parity)
for selected states in Oceania was -
Papua New Guinea
GDP figure for Australia and New Zealand was US$571 billion
and US$85 billion respectively.
An ITU report for 2002 identifies 'main' landlines and aggregate
subscribers (landline and mobile) -
per 100 people
Papua New Guinea
internet hosts (per 10,000 inhabitants) and personal computers
(per 100 inhabitants) -
Papua New Guinea
percentage of people online, for how long and for what is
unknown, given the paucity of comprehensive academic studies
and the indifference of commercial metrics specialists.
Estimates of the number
of personal computers (shipped and in use) should be treated
The UNDP report
for 2004 suggested that life expectancy at birth and adult
literacy (%, ages 15 plus) was -
Papua New Guinea
Oceania is a reminder that digital divides have cultural,
economic and technological context: they are not simply
a matter of rolling out fibre or counting telephone lines.
A number of issues can be identified -
basic issue is the availability of infrastructure.
Topography across the region is not uniform, from remote
atolls under threat of submergence through global warming
to rugged mountains in states such as Papua New Guinea.
For much of the population fibre or ADSL may never be a
reality, with users instead having to rely on different
flavours of wireless and satellite.
Traditional counts of lines per capita are of value but
they are indicative only. Questions remain about how many
of those lines are in working order. Are personal computers
available? Is power available for those machines? What of
software? Maintenance of a machine in the central business
district of Sydney is quite different to sustaining a device
in a building that is subject to damage by recurrent cyclones
and houses tropical rats, cockroaches and crabs.
Given low national and personal incomes in much of the region
questions of access costs are significant.
The availability of infrastructure is arguably of little
importance if connectivity, hardware and power costs mean
that users cannot afford to go online.
The high number of domain
registrations in some of the smaller states is often noted.
However, that is largely because the states (with help from
dotcom promoters) extended traditional sales of exotic postage
stamps to encompass domain names with ccTLDs that include
dot-fm, dot-to, dot-nu and dot-tv. Outside Australia and
New Zealand rates for domain registration and site operation
by people in most states of Oceania are low.
Another issue involves government, business and consumer
expectations. Early statements about the
net in the remoter Pacific stats often had a cargo cult
flavour, with hype about easy enrichment of personal experience,
improved public services (in particular health and education)
and substantial economic growth. That vision of the net
as cornucopia has
not been substantiated, despite announcements by some aid
donors seeking a quick publicity fix or fishery concessions.
Uncertainty regarding access statistics
is also of concern. There are few hard figures on who is
using the net in the smaller states of Oceania. Are there
marked gender and age differences? Is use reflecting (and
reinforcing) existing educational, economic and cultural
stratification? That is of importance, given the shape of
politics in some states and the history of ethnic tensions
in for example Fiji and the Solomons.
What is the net being used for? Are the numbers of personal
computers shipped to the region (on a commercial or donated
basis) matching closely with the numbers in active use?
Some observers have identified potential concerns regarding
e-colonisation, with the net cementing
the disadvantageous position of the smaller states (and
their peoples) at the bottom of a global hegemony. Will
it accelerate the death of threatened languages? Will it
raise yearnings that cannot be satisfied, erode hierarchies
in closed communities such as Pitcairn Island or merely
act as a palliative?
Others have a more positive vision, suggesting that the
net may serve as a repository for cultures, provide virtual
access to cultural expression that has been captured by
overseas museums and galleries, alleviate severe literacy
problems or serve as a mechanism for bridging communities
in diasporas (particularly where many people in some of
the smaller states have relocated from 'home islands' to
a distant neighbour such as New Zealand)
Given the above comments it is unsurprising that there has
been little detailed writing about digital divides across
Oceania and within individual states. Much of the literature
is aspirational, disfigured by labels such as 'e-Palau',
and has not moved beyond broad suggestions that bridging
some divides may increase the viability of particular states.
2000 Economic development via the Net in Oceania
by Stanley Johnston & Gerald Acquaah-Gaisie is upbeat.
For us there is a more persuasive analysis in Dirk Spennemann's
2004 Digital Divides in the Pacific Islands (PDF).
His The Information Superhighway in the Pacific - Pacific
Servers in April 1996 (PDF)
is of historical interest, as is the 1996 CMC paper
by Jim Birckhead, David Green & John Atkinson on The
Electronic Colonisation of the Pacific.
For a political perspective see the 2004 Financing the
Information Society in the South: A Global Public Goods
by Pablo Accuosto & Niki Johnson. UNDP workshops include
those regarding Tuvalu (PDF),
the Federated Micronesia States (PDF),
Marshall Islands (PDF)
and Fiji (PDF).
Data sources apart from the ITU aggregations highlighted
earlier in this profile include the 1999 UNESCO Connectedness
in Pacific Islands Countries: A Survey on the Use of Computers, e-mail & the Internet in Education, Culture and Communication
and 2002 Internet Infrastructure & e-Governance in Pacific Islands Countries: A Survey on the Development
and Use of the Internet (RTF)
and the SIDS 2003 Comparative Internet Access Rates
for Small Island Developing States note.
(Missionaries and marketers)