How do you make a Maltese cross? Steal her modem. Bad joke, but it's probably true - the Mediterranean island has the world's highest level of internet penetration. The US ranks seventh, with 68.6%, the Brits a lowly 18th, with 60.2%. Strife-torn Liberia in west Africa is the least well connected, with a mere 1,000 of its 3 million population cruising the superhighway. But although only 2.7% of Africa is hooked up, it has experienced a 428.7% increase in internet penetration in the past five years. Mobile phones show where this is heading. Africa's mobile growth rate, the fastest in the world, stood at 5,000% between 1998 and 2003, and has had a revolutionary effect on business - 85% of black-owned firms in South Africa now operate solely on mobiles. Business will always suffer in countries with a huge waiting list for landlines. But such limitations won't necessarily delay the web's advance in the third world. Through the magic of wi-fi wireless access, Africans may well be online and clogging Maltese inboxes before we know it.
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