Northern Europe Tops ICT Developments Index
ITU has published an ICT Development Index (IDI), which compares developments in information and communication technologies (ICT) in 154 countries over a five-year period from 2002 to 2007. The Index combines 11 indicators into a single measure that can be used as a benchmarking tool globally, regionally and at the country level. These are related to ICT access, use and skills, such as households with a computer the number of Internet users; and literacy levels.
The most advanced countries in ICT are from Northern Europe, with the exception of the Republic of Korea. Sweden tops the new ITU ICT Development Index, followed by the Republic of Korea, Denmark, the Netherlands, Iceland and Norway. They are followed by other, mainly high-income countries from Europe, Asia and North America. Western and Northern Europe and North America are the regions with the highest IDI scores, and most countries from these regions are among the top twenty ICT economies. Poor countries, in particular the least developed countries, remain at the lower end of the index with limited access to ICT infrastructure, including fixed and mobile telephony, Internet and broadband.
The Report finds that all countries (except one) have improved their ICT levels during the past five years, but some much more than others. Eastern Europe not only features high relative growth but also one of the highest IDI value gains and can thus be considered as the most dynamic region on ICT developments during this time period. Countries that were driving this process include the Baltic States and Romania. Other economies that have significantly improved their ICT levels are Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Macao (China), Japan, Italy and France.
Globally speaking, most progress has been made on ICT access, which includes fixed and mobile telephony, Internet bandwidth, and households with computers and Internet. In terms of ICT use, which includes the number of Internet users, fixed and mobile broadband, progress has been much slower. In particular broadband, a more recent technology, still has to take off in many countries.
Countries with low ICT levels (and hence low Index ranks) are primarily from the developing world. Given the close relationship between ICT level and GDP, many of the poorer countries, in particular from Africa, rank further down in the IDI, with little change in ranking since 2002.
Some developing countries, though, have moved up considerably in the Index over the five-year period, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China and Vietnam. This is partly due to high mobile cellular growth, coupled with an increase in Internet users. China (Rank 73 in 2007 up from 90 in 2002), has made significant progress in increasing the number of fixed telephone lines and mobile subscriptions as well as fixed broadband during the past few years. The recent Government decision to issue IMT-2000/3G licenses by early 2009 and to restructure the market to increase competition in the wired and wireless services is likely to drive mobile broadband and further increase ICT uptake in other areas as well.
Both developed and developing countries have increased their ICT levels by more than 30 per cent over the five-year period, but developing countries are still lagging behind on ICT access and usage. A comparison of ICT levels and GNI per capita (at purchasing power parity) shows a strong link between income and ICT uptake, with some interesting exceptions. Several of the top ICT countries have higher ICT levels than expected given their income levels. For example, the Republic of Korea is outstanding with much higher-than-expected ICT levels. This illustrates how a strong and targeted ICT policy can drive the development of the information society in countries with relatively lower income levels.
The Report also presents the latest, end-2008 figures for key ICT indicators. There has been a clear shift from fixed to mobile cellular telephony and by the end of 2008, there were over three times more mobile cellular subscriptions than fixed telephone lines globally. Two thirds of those are now in the developing world compared with less than half in 2002.
Based on ITU estimates, 23 out of 100 inhabitants globally used the Internet at the end of 2008. But penetration levels in the developing countries remain low. Africa with 5 per cent penetration is lagging behind. When it comes to broadband penetration, figures are even lower. Given the rapid spread of IMT-2000/3G mobile cellular networks in many countries, including in the developing world, there is a clear potential for mobile broadband to connect more and more people - and at higher speed.
Digital divide persists but decreasing slightly
One of the main objectives of the IDI is to measure the magnitude and evolution of the global digital divide. Based on the concept that the digital divide is "relative" - meaning that it compares ICT developments in one country with those in another country - the Report shows that overall the magnitude of the global digital divide remains unchanged between 2002 and 2007. Despite significant improvements in the developing world, the gap between the ICT haves and have-nots remains.
When dividing the world into four groups of countries based on different ICT levels, a slight decrease of the digital divide can be observed between countries in the "high" ICT group and those in the other groups. This could be due to an increase in mobile cellular penetration levels in many countries that are part of the lower ICT groups. On the other hand, results also show that the digital divide between countries with "upper" and those with "medium" and "low" ICT levels is increasing slightly. This suggests that as information societies become more mature, ICT levels flatten out. Less mature, but reasonably advanced information societies grow strongly, thereby leaving behind those at the lower end of the scale.
Cost of ICTs lowest in Singapore and the United States
The cost of making a phone call or surfing the Internet can influence the use of these technologies. The Report presents a new tool - the ITU ICT Price Basket - that measures and compares ICT prices across countries. It combines the average cost of fixed telephone, mobile cellular, and Internet broadband and compares 2008 ICT tariffs in 150 countries. It ranks countries based on the relative price of the ICT services and thus measures and compares the affordability of services.
In 2008, ICT prices corresponded on average to 15 per cent of countries' average GNI per capita, ranging from 1.6 per cent in developed countries to 20 per cent in developing countries, with most countries in the 0-25 per cent range, and most developed countries in the 0-3 per cent range. In other words, significant differences exist among countries based on income levels. Countries with high income level pay relatively little for ICT services, while countries with low income levels pay relatively more. This is often due to very high tariffs for fixed Internet broadband in some developing countries.
Countries that rank at the very top of the ICT Price Basket include Singapore, the United States, Luxembourg, Denmark, Hong Kong (China), United Arab Emirates, Taiwan (China), Sweden, Norway and Finland. Given the income levels of those countries, they offer the most affordable ICT services globally, ranging between 0.4 and 0.6 per cent of monthly GNI per capita. In all of the top 25 countries, ICT services account for less than 1 per cent of monthly GNI. This compares to the bottom 25 countries, where the ICT Price Basket value ranges between 40 and 72 per cent of monthly GNI - which is a clear indicator that ICTs are unaffordable for the large majority of the people in those countries.
The Report also compares prices for each of the three technologies - fixed and mobile telephony and Internet broadband. Looking at purchasing power parity tariffs, the cost of fixed telephony is lowest in Iran, followed by Taiwan (China) and the United Arab Emirates; the cost of mobile cellular telephony is lowest in Hong Kong (China), followed by Denmark and Singapore; and the cost of Internet broadband is lowest in the United States, followed by Canada and Switzerland.
A comparison of ICT levels and ICT prices suggests a strong link between the two. The Report highlights that economies with relatively low prices have relatively high IDI levels; economies with relatively high prices rank relatively low in the index.
The ITU says that it plans to publish the ICT Price Basket on a yearly basis, which will allow countries to track the development of prices over time.