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New ITU index measures ICT development in 154 countries

A report “Measuring the Information Society”, published by ITU in March 2009*, presents important analysis of how the information society is growing globally, regionally, and by country. To do this, it uses the new ITU ICT Development Index (IDI), which captures the level of information and communication technologies (ICT) in 154 countries worldwide and compares progress made between 2002 and 2007 to close the digital divide. The main objective of the IDI is to provide clear indicators that policy-makers and others can use to assess national development as part of the global picture.

The report confirms earlier ITU estimates that, by the end of 2008, the world had reached unprecedented levels of access to ICT: there were over 4 billion mobile phone subscriptions, and 1.3 billion fixed telephone lines. And almost a quarter of the world’s 6.7 billion people were using the Internet. However, penetration levels of fixed and mobile broadband remained relatively low at 6 and 5 per cent respectively (see Figure 1, left chart). Major differences remain in ICT levels between regions, and between developed and developing economies.

The global picture

Mobile outpaces fixed telephony

Figure 1 — Global ICT developments, 1998–2008

* Estimates.
Source: ITU World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators database.

The figures show that by the end of 2008, there were more than three times more mobile subscriptions than fixed telephone lines worldwide, marking a clear shift in how people communicate (see Figure 1, right chart). Globally, fixed line penetration has stagnated at around 20 per cent over recent years, with the number of lines decreasing in many developed countries. In contrast, the spread of mobile services has done much to connect the unconnected. Growth has been most significant in developing regions, where, by the end of 2008, mobile penetration had reached nearly 50 per cent.

Growth of Internet and broadband

While the number of Internet users worldwide continues to grow rapidly, there are big differences between the figures for developed and developing countries. More than 40 per cent of people in Europe, for example, have Internet access, but only about 5 per cent in Africa. At the same time, more and more people have high-speed access. By the end of 2007, over 60 per cent of all Internet subscribers had broadband connections, and about 85 (mostly developed) countries had launched IMT-2000/3G networks.

Despite the current economic downturn, global ICT developments are unlikely to change drastically, given the pervasive nature of the technologies and services. A decline in growth rates might occur, but a reduction in subscriber numbers seems unlikely.

Country rankings

Table 1 shows the results of the new ICT Development Index for the years 2002 and 2007. Almost all of the 154 countries it covers improved their scores over the five-year period. With the exception of the Republic of Korea, all top ten countries are from Europe (see Figure 2), where broadband use, in particular, increased significantly. Countries with low ICT levels are primarily from the developing world.

Figure 2 — Top ten IDI countries

Source: ITU.

The average changes in IDI level over the period studied range from a rise of 20.8 per cent for North America, to rises of 48.5 per cent and 48.2 per cent for North Africa and Eastern Europe respectively (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 — IDI by geographic region (2002–2007)

Source: ITU.

There is a close relationship between ICT level and gross national income (GNI) per capita. However, in 2007 several countries lay above or below the expected relationship curve. Outstanding among those with higher-than-expected ICT levels, given their economic circumstances, is the Republic of Korea, where the government has pursued a strong policy of ICT development. Countries with lower-than-expected ICT levels include oil exporting countries, such as Kuwait, Brunei Darussalam and Saudi Arabia, where there is great potential for further growth in ICT.

Eleven indicators were chosen to compile the index, together measuring ICT infrastructure and access, ICT use and ICT skills (see Figure 4). These were weighted so that 40 per cent of a country’s score came from the figures for ICT access, 40 per cent from ICT use, and 20 per cent from ICT skills. The results can be divided into four groups:

  • High (IDI value above 5.29): The 33 economies in this group accounted for about 15 per cent of the world’s population in 2007 and include 21 European countries, ten Asia-Pacific economies, as well as Canada and the United States.

Figure 4 — Indicators used to calculate the ICT Development Index


  • Upper (IDI values between 3.41 and 5.25): This group includes Mauritius, in Africa, nine countries in Eastern Europe, three in South-East Asia, two in the Caribbean, four in Latin America and seven in West Asia. Together they had almost 780 million people, and combined with the “high” group, totaled some 27 per cent of the world population.
  • Medium (IDI values between 2.05 and 3.34): This group covers more than one-third of the world population and includes such countries as China and Indonesia. Several North African countries and four Sub-Saharan African countries are in this category, as well as the West Asian nations not in the “upper” group.
  • Low (IDI values between 0.82 and 2.03): The remaining one-third or so of the world’s inhabitants can be found in this group. Nicaragua and Haiti and most South Asian countries are in this category, along with South-East Asian countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao P.D.R. Most Sub-Saharan African countries are also included.

Clearly, the digital divide persists, although all groups made progress. The gap between the “high” group and others decreased slightly over the five-year period, but it shrank most between the “high” and the “upper” and “medium” groups, compared with the “low” group. The divide actually widened slightly between the “low” group and the “upper” and “medium” groups. This suggests that as countries’ information societies become more mature ICT levels flatten out, whereas less mature, but reasonably advanced, information societies grow strongly, thereby leaving behind those at the lower end of the scale.

What does it cost?

Another new feature of ITU’s “Measuring the Information Society” report is the ICT Price Basket, which examines how much it costs people to use ICT. Absolute values are listed for the prices of fixed and mobile telephony and fixed broadband Internet services. In addition, countries are ranked according to the total cost of all three services, expressed as a percentage of a country’s GNI (see Table 2).

This showed that, on average, for the 150 countries included, the 2008 ICT Price Basket corresponded to 15 per cent of GNI per capita. However, the figure varied from 1.6 per cent in developed countries to 20 per cent in developing ones. It seems that people in countries with higher income levels pay relatively little for ICT services, while those in low-income countries pay more. Also, the price of services is linked to a country’s ICT level: countries with high prices have lower access and usage levels.

ITU/V. Martin

BDT Director Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid

“High tariffs are often a major barrier to ICT uptake,” stresses the Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid, in his foreword to the report. Mr Al Basheer explains how the figures revealed in the new ICT Price Basket “show that fixed and mobile telephony is becoming more and more affordable worldwide; however, fixed broadband Internet is still out of reach — in terms of affordability — for the majority of the world’s inhabitants”. He notes that “this is clearly one of the main policy challenges that need to be addressed in this sector in the years to come”.

Mr Al Basheer said that ITU plans to publish the results of the ICT Price Basket annually, thus allowing global price developments to be monitored over time.

A valuable new tool

Continuous monitoring of ICT trends is crucial, given the potential impact of ICT on social and economic development in every country. But measurable facts and comparable indicators are required to make effective decisions about policy, based on evidence. In this regard, the ICT Development Index is a new tool for benchmarking the information society that should prove very valuable for policy-makers, service providers and market analysts.



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