Mobile and untethered Internet access are necessary, but not sufficient preconditions for reaping value of Internet technologies, according to the World Bank. 

“The full benefits of the information and communications transformation will not be realized unless countries continue to improve their business climate, invest in people’s education and health, and promote good governance,” the World Bank says.

On average, 80 percent of people in the developing world own a mobile phone, and the number is steadily rising. Even among the bottom fifth of the population, nearly 70 percent own a mobile phone.

But internet adoption lags behind considerably: only 31 percent of the population in developing countries had access in 2014, against 80 percent in high-income countries.

Only around 15 percent can afford access to broadband internet, according to the World Bank, and 80 percent of people with Internet access do so using a mobile phone.

Globally, nearly 21 percent of households in the bottom 40 percent of their countries’ income distribution don’t have access to a mobile phone, and 71 percent don’t have access to the internet.

“In countries where these fundamentals are weak, digital technologies have not boosted productivity or reduced inequality,” a World Bank report says. “Countries that complement technology investments with broader economic reforms reap digital dividends in the form of faster growth, more jobs, and better services.”

In other words, as important as access networks might be, institutional framework really does matter.

“Greater digital adoption will not be enough,” the World Bank says. Countries also need to strengthen regulations that ensure competition among businesses, adapt workers’ skills to the demands of the new economy, and assure that institutions are accountable.