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ITU Releases Access Index

The International Telecommunication Union's Digital Access Index is the first to rank global access to information and comms technology

November 21, 2003

5 Min Read

GENEVA -- The first global index to rank Information and Communication Technology (ICT) access has turned up some surprises. Slovenia ties France; and the Republic of Korea, usually not among the top ten in international ICT rankings, comes in fourth. Apart from Canada, ranked 10th, the top ten economies are exclusively Asian and European. The Digital Access Index (DAI) distinguishes itself from other indices by including a number of new variables, such as education and affordability. It also covers a total of 178 economies, which makes it the first truly global ICT ranking.

Countries are classified into one of four digital access categories: high, upper, medium and low. Those in the upper category include mainly nations from Central and Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, Gulf States and emerging Latin American nations. Many have used ICTs as a development enabler and government policies have helped them reach an impressive level of ICT access. This includes major ICT projects such as the Dubai Internet City in the United Arab Emirates (the highest ranked Arab nation in the DAI), the Multimedia Super Corridor in Malaysia (the highest ranked developing Asian nation) and the Cyber City in Mauritius (along with Seychelles, the highest ranked African nation). The DAI will be a useful tool for tracking the future advancement of these ambitious emerging economies.

The four Asian Tigers have made the greatest progress in ICTs over the last four years. The results suggest that English is no longer a decisive factor in quick technology adoption, especially as more content is made available in other languages.

The DAI forms part of the ITU's upcoming 2003 edition of the World Telecommunication Development Report (WTDR). Published to coincide with the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), it will be a vital reference for governments, international development agencies, non-governmental organizations and the private sector to assess national conditions in information and communications technology.

Redefining ICT potential

The results of the International Telecommunication Union's new Digital Access Index suggest that it is time to redefine ICT access potential. "Until now, limited infrastructure has often been regarded as the main barrier to bridging the Digital Divide," says Michael Minges of the Market, Economics and Finance Unit at ITU. "Our research, however, suggests that affordability and education are equally important factors." To measure the overall ability of individuals to access and use ICTs, the ITU study has gone beyond the organization's traditional focus on telecommunication infrastructure, such as mobile phones and fixed telephone lines.

For example, nearly 40 percent of Peruvians responding to a survey said they either did not have a computer or could not afford Internet services, which points to affordability as a critical success factor. Research has also shown that Internet use is closely linked to education. In China over half of all Internet users are university educated. To acknowledge such findings, the Index includes a number of new criteria, such as school enrolment and Internet tariffs as a percentage of income.

The DAI combines eight variables, covering five areas, to provide an overall country score. The areas are availability of infrastructure, affordability of access, educational level, quality of ICT services, and Internet usage. The results of the Index point to potential stumbling blocks in ICT adoption and can help countries identify their relative strengths and weaknesses.

The DAI overcomes other limitations of other ICT indices. Besides its global scope, its carefully chosen variables guarantee transparency. The DAI concentrates on factors that have an immediate impact on determining an individual's potential to access ICTs. It deliberately omits variables subject to qualitative judgment such as the regulatory environment. "Market structure and degree of competition are open to levels of interpretation," explains Minges. "We purposely exclude qualitative factors - to avoid subjective bias in the calculation."

Information Societies Need Better Tools to Set Targets, Gauge Progress

ITU's efforts to identify indicators for measuring ICT access reflects a growing trend by the international community towards the use of transparent and concrete measurements for monitoring country performance. The United Nations has adopted a set of development targets, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and associated indicators to monitor progress towards the reduction of poverty, hunger and other areas. Access to ICTs is included in the MDGs and laid out in Target 18: "In cooperation with the private sector make available the benefits of new technologies, specifically information and communication." The DAI provides a concrete tool to help measure this key target.

The discussion around ICT is particularly important, given the recognition that widespread access can boost economic development and improve citizens' lives. The Internet allows instant access to information from anywhere, anytime and holds major promises in improving health care, delivering education and protecting the environment. ICTs have equally been identified as a crucial tool to overcome other development goals, including the MDGs.

The complete report provides an overview of indicators used to measure access to the information society; looks at take-up of information technology in business, education and government; and examines the role between ICTs and the UN Millennium Development Goals. The WTDR will be launched in early December just prior to WSIS, at a key UN meeting on monitoring the information society.

International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

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