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ITU World Telecommunication Development Report 2003
Measures Access to the Information Society
Monitors Impact of ICTs on Global Development Goals

23 e-Indicators Included to Overcome the Digital and Statistical Divide

Geneva, 4 December 2003 — A lack of timely and comparable data on access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) is a major barrier to understanding the depth and causes of the digital divide or a gap in ICT access within and between richer and poorer nations. This is especially relevant given that global leaders are gathering next week for the first World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to boost ICT access in underserved economies and forge ways so that powerful ICT tools can serve higher socio-economic goals.

"A close link exists between the digital and statistical divide", says Michael Minges, Head of the Market, Economics and Finance Unit at ITU and lead author of the report. Sixty per cent of all Internet user surveys are carried out in the world’s wealthiest economies, for example, while in the 59 poorest economies, not a single Internet user survey has been conducted. Countries that understand their ICT situation have also identified their strengths and weaknesses and adopted appropriate policies. In the Republic of Korea, for example, detailed analysis of computer and Internet use match the country’s rapid transformation into an information society.

To help governments overcome this data divide, the newly-released World Telecommunication Development Report (WTDR) offers the world’s first comprehensive toolkit on how to measure access to ICTs.

Useful examples that can guide governments seeking ways to harness ICTs tool for development are highlighted in the report, which was compiled by the International Telecommunication Union. It also shows how ICTs can foster achievement of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, or goals set by heads of state in 2000 to alleviate poverty, disease, hunger and other pressing social problems.

The report includes 23 e-ITU indicators based on findings from analyses, surveys and existing data (Table 1).
This basic statistics list provides a global norm for compiling comparable data to track the emerging global information society.

The report also highlights national digital divides that exist within businesses, schools and governments around the world. In Chile, 93 per cent of large businesses have Internet access, higher than the European Union average. But the corresponding figure in small Chilean firms is only 37 per cent. While Mexico’s top secondary schools provide one computer for every 12 students—better than Germany, where the figure is one to 14—the corresponding ratio for Mexico’s bottom quartile of schools is 59 students for every computer. Government access to ICTs—the sector where indicators are least standardized and available—shows similar disparities. In Peru, 81 per cent of central government agencies have access to the Internet while only 21 per cent of local government offices have such access.

ICTs: A tool to meet the Millennium Development Goals

ITU’s effort to identify indicators for measuring ICT access reflects a growing trend by the international community towards the use of transparent and concrete measures for monitoring country performance. The United Nations adopted a set of development targets, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 to track progress towards the reduction of poverty, hunger and other pressing areas. Access to ICTs is included in the MDGs and pinpointed in Target 18: "In cooperation with the private sector make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communication."

"Of all the MDG targets, most progress was achieved with number 18 over the 1990s", says Esperanza Magpantay, a Statistical Officer at ITU and a co-author of the report. Fixed and mobile telephone networks (total teledensity) have grown more dramatically over the last decade across the developing world than in the entire period before that date. A standout is East Asia (which includes China), where total teledensity levels in 2002 were more than 24 times higher than ten years prior.

ICTs are powerful tools to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Numerous success stories circulate about ICTs dramatically improving and even saving lives. Such accounts raise awareness but also need to be translated into indicators to measure the impact of ICTs within and across countries. Although frameworks to determine the socio-economic benefits of ICTs are in their infancy, the Report proposes specific indicators that could help gauge the impact of ICTs on specific MDGs.

Take Goal 2 of the MDGs, which is to ‘Achieve universal primary education’. Based on Nepalese experience, the report suggests tracking the number of primary school teachers trained by ICT-based education. In 2001, 4’430 primary school teachers were trained in Nepal using radio-based distance education. Since the current student-to-teacher ratio is 40, an additional 176’616 primary school students could be enrolled through this initiative, thus boosting net primary school enrolment rate by 5.7 per cent. (For further examples see Table 2).

Measuring World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) goals

The draft action plan of the World Summit on the Information Society proposes ten goals focusing on ICT access, targeted at achievement by 2015. The report shows that many of these targets are, or could soon be met in terms of infrastructure availability. So, while most of the world’s inhabitants will, in theory, have access to most ICTs in the future, their ability to use ICTs will depend largely on knowledge and affordability. Around 95 per cent of the world’s population, for example, is covered by terrestrial radio broadcast signals, 89 per cent are covered by television service and 81 per cent of the world’s population have access to either a mobile cellular signal, a telephone in their home or live within walking distance of telephone service.

Harmonizing statistics and carrying out surveys

While some developed nations are racing ahead in information society measurement and tracking many factors including infrastructure, access and usage, most developing nations are struggling to produce even basic indicators. "The number of Internet users in most developing countries is usually based on government guesstimates or vague estimates", says Vanessa Gray, ITU Telecom Analyst and a co-author of the report.

When developing nations do conduct surveys, they are finding the number of Internet users has often been vastly underestimated. This is confirmed by recent Internet user surveys emerging from Latin America and the Caribbean. In Jamaica, for example, an Internet user survey pointed to 23 per cent of the population using the Internet, while the penetration rate before the survey was estimated at only five per cent. A similar phenomenon occurred in Peru, with a survey finding twice as many Internet users in the Capital (Lima) alone than had been previously estimated for the entire country. In Mexico, a recent Internet survey also found twice as many users than earlier estimates. These findings suggest that the digital divide may not be as wide in some places as earlier assumed.

While there are few Internet surveys for developing nations, richer nations are over-surveyed with often conflicting results. At least six Internet user surveys have been conducted in Spain, for example, producing figures ranging from over 50 to less than 20 per cent of the population being online. Internet penetration levels compiled by national statistical offices in Europe are, on average, thirteen per cent below those published by market research organizations.

Statistical compendium

The report also features the new ITU Digital Access Index (DAI) to measure the overall ability of individuals in a country to access and use new ICTs. The index uses eight indicators to rank 178 countries, which makes it the first truly global ICT index. The DAI can be used to benchmark country performance, measure the digital divide and track MDG target 18. See the release issued 19 November 2003.

A 100-page statistical annex covering a range of data for 182 economies in 20 statistical tables is also included in the report. These "World Telecommunication Indicators" include data such as the number of telephone subscribers, television households and Internet users. The report is also a practical toolkit with dozens of definitions and examples of indicators used to measure access to ICTs, plus examples of model surveys that governments can use to improve their statistical practices.

Finally, the report proposes several suggestions to overcome the statistical divide:

  • Countries can improve their statistical landscape by conducting surveys, compiling statistics and making them readily available. Australia, for example, has a "Measures of a knowledge-based economy and society" portal.
  • Government agencies involved in ICTs must work closely with national statistical offices. The communications ministry of Chile, for example, regularly compiles and produces analytical reports on data collected by the national statistical agency.
  • Transparency, clarity, timeliness and relevance are critical to harmonize statistics. Governments need to look to other countries and draw on existing experiences for questionnaires and surveys.
  • Developed countries and multilateral agencies should assist developing nations to compile ICT indicators by providing technical assistance and material resources. In 2004, ITU will hold several statistical workshops to provide such assistance. With five other international agencies, ITU also co-organized a statistical meeting on monitoring the information society just prior to WSIS.
  • Mechanisms to meet national monitoring targets should include the creation of a global information society portal, with links to country-level ICT statistics, model surveys and other relevant material.

Table 1: The e-ITU indicators


Percentage of households with electricity


Student to computer ratio


Percentage of households with a radio


Percentage of schools with Internet access


Percentage of households with a television


Percentage of government offices with Internet access


Percentage of households with a telephone


Percentage of government offices with a website


Percentage of households with a personal computer


Percentage of government employees with Internet access


Percentage of households with Internet access


Main telephone lines per 100 inhabitants


Percentage of population covered by mobile telephony


Mobile cellular subscribers per 100 inhabitants


Percentage of population that use a computer


Internet access tariff (20 hours/month) as percentage of per capita income


Percentage of population with access to the Internet


International Internet bandwidth per inhabitant


Percentage of businesses with computers


Broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants


Percentage of businesses with Internet access


Internet users per 100 inhabitants


Percentage of businesses with a website



Table 2: How ICTs can impact the MDGs

Selected examples




Goal 1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

Increase in income from ICTs

A 1999 study of Village Pay Phone (VPP) owners in Bangladesh found that profits from providing phone service constitutes 24% of these households’ total income.

Goal 2. Achieve universal primary education

Primary school teachers trained by ICT-based education

In Nepal, 4’430 people were trained as primary school teachers using radio-based distance education in 2001. Based on the current student-to-teacher ratio of 40, an additional 176’616 new primary school students could be enrolled once these teachers complete their training. This would raise the net primary school enrolment rate 5.7%.

Goal 3. Promote gender equality and empower women

Females enrolled in ICT-based education as percentage of total female tertiary enrolment

Open Learning Australia (OLA) offers higher education through a combination of distance and on-line teaching. In 2002, there were 6’129 students enrolled in OLA of which 56.9% were female. This is higher share than in overall higher education (54.9%). As a result of OLA enrolment, female tertiary school enrolment is 0.8% higher.

Goal 4. Reduce child mortality

Percentage of parents of small children using ICT-based health tools

Baby CareLink is a telemedicine program for parents of infants in the United States. A 1997-99 evaluation of 56 patients found those parents who used Baby CareLink reported a 10% higher quality of care than those who did not use Baby CareLink.

Goal 5. Improve maternal health

Percentage of maternal health workers using ICTs

A July 1999 evaluation of a maternal health project in the Tororo district of Uganda based on radio technology, found that maternal mortality dropped 50%.

Goal 6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Percentage of adult population adopting health lifestyle after exposure to ICT-based health information

A September 1998 evaluation of an entertainment-education radio soap opera on HIV prevention in St. Lucia found that condom imports rose 143% after the program was aired.

Goal 7. Ensure environmental sustainability

Teleworkers as percentage of total in employment

There are 38’700 teleworkers in Ireland (2.3% of total in employment). As a result, CO2 emissions from car use are 2% less. If all those in Ireland who say their job lends itself to teleworking (28% of total employment) could telework, there would be a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions.

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