20 November 2003


Findings in International Telecommunication Union Report

Will Be Discussed at Forthcoming World Summit on Information Society

GENEVA, 19 November (ITU) -- The first global index to rank access to information and communication technology (ICT) has turned up some surprises.  Slovenia ties France; and the Republic of Korea, usually not among the top 10 in the international rankings, comes in fourth.  Apart from Canada, ranked tenth, the top 10 economies are exclusively Asian and European.  The Digital Access Index 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 ranking for ICT.

The access index forms part of the upcoming 2003 edition of the World Telecommunication Development Report of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).  It is published to coincide with the forthcoming World Summit on the Information Society, which is to be held in two phases -- in Geneva from 10 to   12 December this year, and in Tunisia in November 2005.

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.

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 new access index 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.  The results suggest that it is time to redefine potential access.

“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 the 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 per cent 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 access index includes a number of new criteria, such as school enrolment and Internet tariffs as a percentage of income.

In reaching an overall country score, the index considers availability of infrastructure, affordability of access, educational level, quality of ICT services, and Internet usage.  The results of the index can help countries identify their relative strengths and weaknesses.

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.

* *** *