Fri, Apr 06, 2012 - Page 6 News List

New report says world’s digital divide still persists

AP, NEW YORK

The digital divide persists between developed and developing countries, even in regions like Europe, according to a report released on Wednesday that examined the success of 142 countries in using information and communications technology to boost economic competitiveness.

The 441-page report by the World Economic Forum released on Wednesday uses a broad range of measures to rank countries on the success of their overall efforts to use information and communications technology (ICT) to improve business, government and the lives of individuals.

At the top of the list are advanced economies — Sweden, Singapore, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, the US, Canada and Britain. At the bottom are many poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa as well as Nepal, Syria, East Timor and Haiti.

“Despite all the efforts that we have seen in the past, the digital divide still exists between developing countries and developed countries,” said Benat Bilbao-Osorio, associate director of the World Economic Forum’s Center for Global Competitiveness and Performance, who co-authored the report. “The digital divide can be observed as well at the regional level.”

Co-author Soumitra Dutta, a business and technology professor at INSEAD, one of the world’s largest graduate schools of business with campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, told a news conference launching the report that the world is becoming “hyperconnected” and it’s important to measure how technology is impacting government, business and individuals.

While technology and infrastructure are important, he said, there are many other aspects that are crucial, including whether the environment is conducive for businesses to use technology and encourages innovation, whether regulations support or inhibit transparency, whether ICT is affordable and accessible, and whether people have the skills to use it.

Christopher Vollmer, leader of the global media and entertainment practice at the management consulting firm Booz & Company, said: “Digitization has a very important positive impact” on all aspects of development.

“We found that economically, the more countries are able to move up the digitization index, it actually improves GDP performance, it’s associated with positive job growth and it’s very critical for innovation,” he said.

It also improves the quality of life and has political benefits, including greater transparency, better access to basic services and improved performance in areas like education.

According to the report, “overall, Europe remains at the forefront of the efforts to leverage ICT to transform its economy and society.”

However, it said there are disparities in the region, with advanced economies such as Germany and France behind the top-ranked Nordics at 16 and 23 respectively in the ranking and all four of the EU’s southern countries — Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece — lagging even farther behind. In the lowest tier are many Eastern European countries, with Romania at 67, Albania at 68 and Bulgaria at 70.

Bilbao-Osorio said the US was ranked eight, not higher, because the government and opposition have had difficulties addressing challenges to the economy in recent years.

China ranked highest of the world’s rising economic powers — the so-called BRICS countries — at 51. It was followed by Russia at 56, Brazil at 65, India at 69 and South Africa at 72.

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