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Determinants of a digital divide in Sub-Saharan Africa : a spatial econometric analysis of cell phone coverage


  • Buys, Piet
  • Dasgupta, Susmita
  • Thomas, Tim
  • Wheeler, David


Most discussions of the digital divide treat it as a"North-South"issue, but the conventional dichotomy doesn't applyto cell phones in Sub-Saharan Africa. Although almost all Sub-Saharan countries are poor by international standards, they exhibit great disparities in coverage by cell telephone systems. Buys, Dasgupta, Thomas and Wheeler investigate the determinants of these disparities with a spatially-disaggregated model that employs locational information for cell-phone towers across over 990,000 4.6-km grid squares in Sub-Saharan Africa. Using probit techniques, a probability model with adjustments for spatial autocorrelation has been estimated that relates the likelihood of cell-tower location within a grid square to potential market size (proximate population); installation and maintenance cost factors related to accessibility (elevation, slope, distance from a main road, distance from the nearest large city); and national competition policy. Probit estimates indicate strong, significant results for the supply-demand variables, and very strong results for the competition policy index. Simulations based on the econometric results suggest that a generalized improvement in competition policy to a level that currently characterizes the best-performing states in Sub-Saharan Africa could lead to huge improvements in cell-phone area coverage for many states currently with poor policy performance, and an overall coverage increase of nearly 100 percent.

Suggested Citation

  • Buys, Piet & Dasgupta, Susmita & Thomas, Tim & Wheeler, David, 2008. "Determinants of a digital divide in Sub-Saharan Africa : a spatial econometric analysis of cell phone coverage," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4516, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:4516

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    Cited by:

    1. Hilbert, Martin, 2010. "When is Cheap, Cheap Enough to Bridge the Digital Divide? Modeling Income Related Structural Challenges of Technology Diffusion in Latin America," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 38(5), pages 756-770, May.
    2. Jenny C. Aker & Isaac M. Mbiti, 2010. "Mobile Phones and Economic Development in Africa," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(3), pages 207-232, Summer.
    3. Marco Manacorda & Andrea Tesei, 2016. "Liberation Technology: Mobile Phones and Political Mobilization in Africa," HiCN Working Papers 217, Households in Conflict Network.
    4. Dimitris Batzilis & Taryn Dinkelman & Emily Oster & Rebecca Thornton & Deric Zanera, 2014. "New Cellular Networks in Malawi: Correlates of Service Rollout and Network Performance," NBER Chapters,in: African Successes, Volume III: Modernization and Development, pages 215-245 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Hübler, Michael & Hartje, Rebecca, 2016. "Are smartphones smart for economic development?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 141(C), pages 130-133.
    6. Hübler, Michael, 2015. "Labor mobility and technology diffusion: A new concept and its application to rural Southeast Asia," Journal of Asian Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 137-151.
    7. Jenny C. Aker & Marcel Fafchamps, 2015. "Mobile Phone Coverage and Producer Markets: Evidence from West Africa," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 29(2), pages 262-292.

    More about this item


    E-Business; ICT Policy and Strategies; Population Policies; Technology Industry; Geographical Information Systems;

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design
    • L14 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Transactional Relationships; Contracts and Reputation

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