Information and knowledge are essential elements of poverty alleviation strategies, and ICTs offer the potential of easy access to huge amounts of information useful for the poor wherein it can transform the economy and the society.
However, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report 2015, the world’s developing and emerging economies are failing to make use of the capabilities of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to build social and economic transformation and catch up with more advanced nations.
The Networked Readiness Index (NRI) identifies the potential of countries to leveraging ICT, by evaluating the overall political and business environment, the level of ICT readiness and usage of ICT among the population, businesses and government, including the overall impacts of ICTs on the economy and society in general.
The 2015 results, which include 143 economies, confirm the dominance of advanced economies and the persistence of the multiple-faceted digital divides not only across but also within economies. They reveal the gap between the best and worst performing economies is widening. Those in top 10 percent have seen twice the level of improvement since 2012 as those in the bottom 10 percent.
This shows the degree of the challenge facing developing and emerging nations as they seek to develop the infrastructure, institutions and skills needed to obtain the full benefits of ICTs, as only 39 percent of the global population enjoys access to the internet even though that more than half now owns a mobile phone.
The NRI ranks Singapore as the top country in the world when it comes to utilizing ICTs for social and economic impact wherein it replaces Finland, which had been number one since 2013. The other Asian country that also made it to the top 10 was Japan, which climbs to the 10th position after being in the 16th position last year.
Taking up the third place behind Finland is Sweden, while the highest-placed Group of 7 (G7) economy is the United States which is 7th place, followed by the United Kingdom in the 8th place. The world’s fourth largest econoy, Germany, ranks down to 13th place.
The Russian Federation is the highest-placed BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nation, climbing nine places in 2015 to 41st. It is joined in the top half of the ranking by China, which continues to be at 62. All other members of the nation have dropped their rankings, with South Africa which ranks in the 75th place (down five), followed by Brazil (84th, down fifteen) and India (89th, down six).
Report says that other countries that have improved their NRI ranking over the last decade or so are now facing stagnation or regression. This is partly down to persisting divides within countries between rural and urban areas and around income groups, which is causing large portions of the population being left out of the digital economy.
Given the persistent pace of technological development, the digital divide across nations is increasing and raising great concern because less developed nations are at risk of being left further behind and definite actions are needed immediately to deal with this.
It is expected with high-income economies to occupy the top 30 places. The report identifies a number of countries that have made significant improvements, both in terms of their index score and ranking such as Armenia (58th) and Georgia (60th), which are among the most improved nations since 2012. Outside of the Caucasus, the UAE (23rd), El Salvador (80th), Macedonia FYR (47th), Mauritius (45th) and Latvia (33rd) all improved notably during the same period.
Countries like Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda are being witnessed with early-stage improvements. They have all liberalized their ICT markets, while Kenya and Tanzania are starting to see the benefits of similar reforms.
The report also notes that government leadership in the creation of a good regulatory and business environment with competitive ICT markets is an important requirement for all countries. However, while government action is necessary to address digital divides, efforts must also be made to motivate the people to engage in the digital economy.
With the theme of “ICTs for Inclusive Growth”, the 2015 edition of the report provides solutions fromleading experts and practitioners to reduce digital poverty and make the ICT revolution a global reality.
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