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Home : ITU-D : ICT Data and Statistics (IDS)

Geneva, November 1, 2005

ITU and Orbicom publish ICT Opportunity Index
A step towards the implementation of the WSIS’ Plan of Action

Index on relative and absolute progress made over time shows that the digital divide is far from history

Download the free publication in English or French (PDF format)


From the Digital Divide to Digital OpportunitiesIn time for the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), together with the International Network of UNESCO Chairs in Communications (Orbicom), has published the ICT Opportunity Index. The index shows that digital opportunities are unequally distributed and suggests that the gap between the ICT-poorest countries and most others is actually growing.

 As part of a larger collaborative project, the index is based on the Infostate conceptual framework that allows linkages of ICTs to economic development through the country’s productive capacity and use of ICTs. It relies on 21 indicators that help measure ICT networks, education and skills, uptake and intensity of the use of ICT. For analytical purposes, economies are grouped into 5 categories, from ‘high’ to ‘low’ Infostates.  

The index is published as part of the publication “From the Digital Divide to Digital Opportunities: Measuring Infostates for Development” and the result of the merger of two well-known initiatives, ITU’s Digital Access Index (DAI) and Orbicom’s Monitoring the Digital Divide/Infostate conceptual framework and model. It is also the response to calls from the international community and follows the explicit recommendation of the WSIS Plan of Action, paragraph 28, to “…develop and launch a composite ICT Development (Digital Opportunity) Index” to combine statistical indicators with analytical work on policies and their implementation.   

The empirical application shows that the infostate gap between countries continues to be important with values ranging from a high of 225 to a low of 8. Thus, literally, have and have-not countries are worlds apart. Countries with the least developed Infostates are heavily concentrated in Africa, with some Asian countries as well. The countries with the highest growth were those with the lowest Infostates, a typical pattern in analyses of digital divides, whether across or within countries, and largely the product of the initial values.  However, this does not indicate a closing divide. 

The application provides measurements across 192 economies for networks, covering 98% of the population of the planet, and 139 economies for overall Infostates covering 94% of the global population. This approach has the advantage of also providing a time-series covering the period from 1995-2003, allowing benchmarking not only across countries but also within countries over time.  

Apart from cross-country comparisons, the index’s methodology highlights relative movements of countries, and shows which countries are making progress and how fast. Uganda and Kyrgyzstan, for example started at the same level, but growth has much slowed in Uganda. Syria and Yemen, too, started out at the same level but Syria pulled ahead in 1997 and more after 2000, while Yemen continued to grow much slower.  

To exploit the analytical potential of the ICT Opportunity Index, the results of the index are linked to national and regional policies, regulatory changes, and the economic context. Individual reports from 26 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean highlight why some countries have been doing better than others. Concrete examples highlight the linkages between policy and Infostate levels, providing a wealth of explanations for the differences in performance across countries.

A major contribution of this report is the systematic investigation of the gender divide, which for the first time includes a significant quantitative component, particularly since ICT measurements and comparative analyses in this area have been scarce. The findings of the report show that the gender divide is large and exists both in developing and developed countries - albeit it is generally larger in developing countries. The relationship between the gender divide and the overall digital divide is very tenuous and does not support the argument that the gender divide will automatically improve as the overall divide slowly closes.   

The compilation of statistics and analysis of trends have accelerated recently with increased focus around the world on ICTs and the recognition that ICTs are an effective tool for social development and economic growth. ITU's continued efforts to identify indicators for measuring ICT progress and opportunities reflects a growing trend by the international community towards the use of transparent and concrete measurements for monitoring country performance. Statistical information further helps governments identify targets and adopt policies accordingly. It is, however, not enough for governments to look just at their own development. Benchmarking and international comparisons are important to assess their progress objectively and to help them set realistic targets.


For International Telecommunication Union
Market, Economics, and Finance Unit
Telecommunication Development Bureau
International Telecommunication Union
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For Orbicom
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Orbicom – The international Networks of UNESCO Chairs in Communications is a specialized network of UNESCO with consultative status with UN-ECOSOC. It embodies 26 chairs in communication and over 250 associate members in 73 countries with representation from communication research, ICT for development, journalism, multi-media, public relations, communications law, and more. The Network established in 1994 with a view to promoting communications’ development through a multidisciplinary approach.



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