Are the developing countries and organizations such as ITU, WSIS making real progress against digital divide? A new measure called Digital Opportunity Index may provide an objective way to  answer this question.  

Following the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) summits (Geneva 2003 and Tunis 2005) which brought together the stakeholders, ITU and partners including the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development introduced Digital Opportunity Index (DOI), a tool for measuring the digital divide and monitoring progress in building the information society.

DOI is a composite index created from 11 internationally agreed ICT indicators, including the percentage of a population covered by cellular telephony, the proportion of households with internet access and the ratio of fixed broadband subscribers to total internet subscribers. Based on this approach Pakistan scored 0.73 out of a maximum of 1.o and is ranked 42nd out of 54 countries in Asia Pacific region in 2005. South Korea tops the list worldwide. Full results here (scroll to end).  A separate post will discuss the reasons for Pakistan’s low ranking.

As shown in the graphic above the index ranges from 0 to 1 where 1 is complete digital opportunity.

These indicators are divided into 3 categories: opportunity, which measures the basic access and affordability needed to participate in the information society; infrastructurewhich looks at networks and devices; and utilisation which focuses on who is using what.

The DOI was developed by a multi-stakeholder partnership (the Digital Opportunity Platform) comprising ITU, UNCTAD and the KADO (Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion) and which is open to other partners.

A recent Financial Times article by Alan Cane with the headline “Digital Divide: Still there for the poor” points out that despite the telecommunication growth rates observed in some countries, the poorest of the world still face formidable challenges of digital divide. Excerpts from the FT article: 

Less than 10 per cent of the world’s population had basic internet access in 2003, Paul Mountford, president of Cisco Systems’ emerging markets group, told the Silicon Valley Challenge Summit last month, vividly illustrating the size of the “digital divide” which separates the information rich from the information poor.

On Digital Opportunity Index: Mr Kelly, head of the ITU’s policy and strategy unit, says: “The first full release (of DOI) was published in July 2006 covering 180 economies. It is the first genuinely neutral index for the ICT sector. This first edition will provide a baseline for analysis between now and 2015 when the WSIS outcomes are due for review.”

This year’s WSIS report, the first of its kind, uses the DOI to show that India and China have made the most gains in closing the digital divide between 2001 and 2005, followed by Russia, Hungary, Peru and Indonesia.

The article ends with a dose of reality check.

“But the poorest countries have yet to taste the wonders of the internet and would, no doubt, prefer the taste of plentiful food, clean water and adequate sanitation.”

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