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The digital divide is shrinking

13 April 2010

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The latest edition of Measuring the Information Society features the new ITU ICT Development Index (IDI) and the ICT Price Basket-two benchmarking tools to measure the Information Society. The analytical report is complemented by a series of statistical tables providing country-level data for all indicators included in the Index.

Measuring the Information Society

Publisher: International Telecommunication Union , 2010

Despite the recent economic downturn, the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) services, such as mobile phones and the Internet, continues to grow worldwide. By the end of 2009, there were an estimated 4.6 billion mobile cellular subscriptions, corresponding to 67 per 100 inhabitants globally Internet use has also continued to expand, albeit at a slower pace.

Image credits: ITU/ Cover page of the report

In 2009, an estimated 26 per cent of the world’s population (or 1.7 billion people) were using the Internet. In developed countries the percentage remains much higher than in the developing world where four out of fi ve people are still excluded from the benefits of being online. China alone accounted for one-third of Internet users in the developing world.

One important challenge in bringing more people online is the limited availability of fi xed broadband access, which is primarily confi ned to Internet users in developed countries and some developing countries.

Monitoring the Digital Divide

The digital divide remains high on the agenda of national and international ICT policy makers, and one of the key objectives of the IDI is to help monitor and assess the digital divide, and highlight areas for improvement.

While the IDI values are on average much higher in developed than in developing countries, growth over the past years has been equally strong and even slightly higher in developing countries (Chart 2).

The largest differences between developed and developing countries can be seen on the ICT use sub-index, where developing countries are still far behind developed countries, in particular for the uptake of mobile and fi xed broadband.

Another way of measuring differences in ICT development is provided by the time-distance methodology, which measures the number of years a country or region lags behind a benchmark country or region in terms of development indicators. The results illustrate that the gap between developed and developing countries in terms of ICT indicators is relatively small – especially compared to that for other development indicators, such as life expectancy or infant mortality rates.

The IDI ICT Development Index captures the level of advancement of ICTs in 159 countries worldwide and compares progress made between 2002 and 2008. It also measures the global digital divide and examines how it has developed in recent years.

 The report also features the latest ICT Price Basket, which combines 2009 fixed telephone, mobile cellular and fixed broadband tariffs for 161 economies into one measure and compares these across countries, and over time.

The analytical report is complemented by a series of statistical tables providing country-level data for all indicators included in the Index. The ICT Price Basket allows policy makers to compare the cost of ICT services across countries, and provides a starting point for looking into ways of lowering prices – for example, by introducing or strengthening competition, by reviewing specifi c tariff policies and by evaluating operators’ revenues and efficiency.

In 2009, the ICT Price Basket corresponded on average to 13 per cent of GNI per capita. The ten economies with the lowest ICT service prices relative to income are Macao (China), Hong Kong (China), Singapore, Kuwait, Luxembourg, the United States, Denmark, Norway, the United Kingdom and Iceland. Overall, people in developed countries have to spend relatively less of their income (1.5 per cent) on ICT services than people in developing countries (17.5 per cent). This shows that, with a few exceptions, ICT services tend to be more affordable in developed countries and less affordable in developing countries, especially the least developed countries (LDCs).

Measuring ICT impact

One of the main objectives of the IDI is to measure the development potential of ICTs, or the extent to which countries can use ICTs to enhance growth and development, based on available capabilities and skills required to make effective use of ICTs and enhance their impact.

ICTs have a wide range of different economic effects which, directly or indirectly, can increase welfare and facilitate social and economic development. Direct effects include productivity gains resulting from the development and deployment of ICTs, and the development of new, related technologies.

The report fi nds that ICTs can have important economic and socio-economic benefi ts, including those on a range of development goals. Analysis using ICT household data reveals that better educational performance has a positive statistical association with greater household Internet access, pointing to one possible channel via which the potential benefi ts of ICTs might occur.

A statistical association was also found between the proportion of households with Internet access and female labour force participation, suggesting further potential benefi ts from the use of ICTs. These could occur directly or indirectly, for example by promoting gender equality, especially in the use of ICTs, and in helping women into economic activity. Indeed, available data illustrate that the differences between men and women using the Internet tend to be relatively small.

Source : ITU

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