Bangkok, Thailand (BBN) – While some countries in Asia and the Pacific – the world’s largest broadband market – have high speed and affordable Internet access, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

The United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU) said in its Telecommunication /Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Indicators Report for Asia and the Pacific that Internet access in the region’s poor countries remains limited and predominantly low speed.

The report, released at the ITU Telecom Asia 2008 conference which kicked off on the day in Bangkok, also points out that the region is the world’s largest broadband market with a 39 per cent share of the world’s total at the end of 2007.

In terms of access, it notes that the region has made remarkable progress in the past few years, with subscriber numbers growing almost five-fold in five years, from 27 million at the beginning of 2003 to 133 million at the start of 2008.

The Republic of Korea leads the world in terms of the percentage of households with fixed broadband access. Along with Hong Kong and Japan, it also leads the world in terms of the proportion of households with fiber optic connections, which are essential for supporting the next generation of ultra high speed Internet applications, according to the report.

Meanwhile, in most of the region’s low- and lower middle-income economies, high speed Internet access “is limited to urban areas at best, typically expensive, and often not available at all,” the ITU said.

The gap in available broadband speeds between rich and poor countries is as wide as broadband penetration.

In Japan, the Republic of Korea and Hong Kong, the minimum advertised broadband speed is faster than the maximum broadband speed in Cambodia, Tonga, Laos and Bangladesh, it added.

The report also notes that Asia and the Pacific is home to almost half the world’s fixed telephone subscribers; has 42 per cent of the world’s Internet users; and has the largest mobile phone market share, with 1.4 billion mobile cellular subscribers.

By mid-2008, China and India alone had over 600 and 280 million mobile cellular subscribers, respectively, representing close to a quarter of the world’s total.

Besides, text messaging is the predominant non-voice, mobile application in the region. Filipinos send a “staggering” 650 text messages per subscriber per month, the highest in the world.

The report recommends that governments develop policies and incentives to narrow the broadband gap.