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Volume 21, No. 1, February 2011


Table of Contents

 

ICT Development Resources for Researchers-Is Free a Good Price to Pay?

 

Dr. Stephen Ruth

George Mason University

ruth@gmu.edu

 

Introduction  

In his influential book, Free-the Future of a Radical Price[i], Wired Magazine’s chief executive and TED founder Chris Anderson proposed a pricing model that makes it possible to offer a valuable ICT service which costs the user nothing.  It’s much more complicated than that, since the user may  become addicted to the free service, so that higher level of service—not free—may be desired.  For many years I have been studying ICT in development and working on a variety of projects funded by World Bank, UNDP, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and others. Each time a project is completed I write several articles and link up with development professionals in as many ways as I can. But recently, as I completed a report for the journal IEEE Internet Computing about major open source ICT analysis sources, I realized that perhaps there was not much discussion about the wealth of free ICT analytical resources available to researchers for citations and downloads.  So in this brief article I will describe some of these valuable sources. They offer current, frequently-updated information that can be very helpful in studies of ICT, especially in the context of developing nations. To show practical uses of these sources, I will focus on a specific region, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), which constitutes 30 countries and a population of over 600 million. LAC is currently experiencing Internet penetration and wireless deployment growth rates that are among the highest in the world.

International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Statistics and Analyses

 

While the ITU’s management and policy role is well known, it also provides a broad array of ICT /telecom statistics for over 200 nations of the world. Beginning with the main site [ii]and “free statistics” link, it’s possible to download many basic indicators, like population, GDP, ratio of mobile to cellular subscriptions, fixed broadband descriptions and many more, at no cost. Two samples are described for LAC: first, after the US and Canada, the ICT Development Index’s top five for the Americas is rounded out by Argentina, Chile and Uruguay; second,  Brazil, with a LAC-leading total of almost 17 million fixed Internet subscriptions has a penetration rate of 5.92 percent compared to Canada’s 30 percent. More detailed data is available for a fee in ITU’s Yearbook of Statistics or an extensive CDROM data base World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Database 2010 (14th Edition). The main ITU site also has many free charts, graphs and summaries of current telecom trends.


ICT Development Index (IDI) and the ICT Price Basket

ITU also provides two other highly valuable resources for researchers, the ICT Development Index (IDI) and the ICT Price Basket. Both are described and analyzed in an annual report Measuring the Information Society 2010. [iii] The IDI is composed of eleven different components, primarily related to per capita variables like fixed telephony, household computers with Internet access, Internet users, and so on.  The aggregate scores and rankings for almost 160 nations are interesting, but the major value is for comparing from one year to the next with respect to evolution, digital divide and other variables of interest.  The ICT Price Basket, the second segment of Measuring the Information Society 2010, is a complement to the IDI because it adds a dimension that the IDI lacks—cost information from the perspective of the ICT user.  Out-of-pocket costs are often omitted in ICT indices, but clearly are a vital component. The ICT Price Basket includes the effect of local and national tariffs on fixed telephone, mobile cellular and broadband so it is as close as a researcher can get to a free index of actual user costs. 

Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)

For LAC the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)’s Economic Development and Inclusion through Local Broadband Networks [iv] should be must reading for anyone interested in leveraging ICT and telecom opportunities, especially in poorer regions. From my perspective it is an exemplar for multilateral organizations because it covers about a half dozen of the most crucial topics, all in a compact document.  The focus is Broadband deployment in LAC with emphasis on specific examples. In addition to describing some of the sometimes mysterious vocabulary of telecom, the report gives specific example-laced descriptions of building blocks like skills, competences, access issues, affordable prices, etc. It has a chapter which details close to a dozen approaches and models related to the thorny problem of Uniform Access/Service funds. But perhaps the most valuable section of this report is at the end where there are over twenty case studies of broadband implementation, most of them in LAC countries. The examples range from connecting the Yachana region of Peru , reachable only by motorized boats (solar power and VSAT), to Castanbal, a mid-sized city in Brazil . ( Wi-Fi , Wi -Max, Optical Fiber, Cable).

Digital Economy Rankings  

Another helpful index is produced by the Intelligence Unit of Economist Magazine and IBM, Digital Economy Rankings 2010-- Beyond E-Readiness[v], It ranks sixty nations based on these variables: connectivity, business, cultural and legal environment, government policy and vision, and consumer and business adoption.  As in all these rankings, the top two dozen leaders are usually  predictable— Sweden narrowly edged Denmark for first place--but for the analyst, it’s more interesting to see the status of the developing nations.  For LAC the top nations are Chile and Argentina but other LAC nations are not far away: Mexico , Brazil , Jamaica . The report also pairs regional leaders for further comparisons. For example, in technology infrastructure: North America: US and Canada ; Western Europe: Sweden and Netherlands ; Asia Pacific: South Korea and Japan ; Central and Eastern Europe: Estonia and Slovenia ; Middle East and Africa: Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Latin America: Chile , Argentina . and Venezuela .

 

E-Government  

The United Nations report E-Government Survey 2010 Leveraging e-government at a time of financial and economic crisis is an excellent source of analysis and rankings.[vi] E-Government is far more than web sites and downloads—as the report notes, it concerns “citizen centricity, universal access and use of new technologies such as mobile devices. and other forms of public delivery” (p 5). The top-ranking telecom infrastructure nations in LAC are Columbia , Chile , Uruguay , Barbados , Argentina , Mexico , Antigua and Brazil (p 65). The report has dozens of examples and box-enclosed case studies, like a description of Guatemala ’s E-procurement portal and a brief streaming tutorial on Panama ’s national web site presented by the nation’s first lady (Primera Dama) as part of the “No Violence Against Women” campaign. (p 67)

 

UN’s Information Economy Report.

Another rich source of ICT analysis is the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ annual Information Economy Report 2010 ICTs, Enterprises and Poverty Alleviation.[vii]  The theme of the report is that ICT can be a strategic asset in reducing poverty through linking infrastructure, enterprise development, and human capacity development.  The emphasis is less on ranking nations from highest to lowest and more on describing some of the conditions that may predict and foster using ICT to reduce levels of poverty. As it concludes:

“Tailored policy interventions are needed in the following areas: (a) enhancing access to ICT infrastructure, especially wireless technology; (b) making ICT access affordable; (c) promoting relevant content and services development; (d) strengthening the ICT sector; and (e) improving the links between ICT and enterprise policies and poverty reduction strategies. Enterprise-related ICT policies need to become better integrated in national development strategies and in the UNDAFs.” (page 128)

 

Extensive poverty-related data is provided for all regions of the world. For LAC here are a few : The poverty rate in LAC  in 2005 was 8.9 percent, a 2.7  percent reduction from the previous decade (p 127) .Other data concerns country-by-country numbers for Internet penetration, use of websites by enterprise size, sector workforce and gross value added, ICT share of total business, imports and exports of  ICT goods, and so on.

 

Harvard’s Berkman Center

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School produces a range of high quality ICT-related reports. An example is Next Generation Connectivity. [viii]  It focuses on the OECD countries so some major nations are not included—like China, India, Brazil and Indonesia—but the report gives statistics and analyses and summaries not easily found elsewhere, on topics like public wireless, public Wi-Fi hotspots per region, ranking of download speeds by cities, comparisons of actual vs. advertised download speeds and various Internet pricing comparisons.  Among LAC countries only Mexico is included ( Chile joined OECD in mid-2010). Mexico and Turkey are always at or near the bottom of the OECD rankings. As the report comments: “ Mexico has the lowest penetration per 100, the slowest average advertised and actual speeds, and the highest prices for the low speeds that are on average available there.” (page 85). But it should be noted that OECD nations include most the major ICT powerhouses—United States, many Western European Union nations, Japan, South Korea, etc. and both Mexico and Turkey are making significant strides.

 

Other Open Sources

There are far too many of these useful data bases to list here but I will note a few more. A popular all-purpose source has links and summaries from many of the mainstream reports just mentioned, plus much more. It’s called Worldstats [ix] and is worth any researcher’s time to examine carefully. Because it has so much more variety available than other sites—data on E Commerce, world population trends, market information and links to sites like ITU, NSRC, ICANN, ClickZ, etc.—it may be considered somewhat unusual. But Worldstats is a solid, highly valuable site for ICT/telecom data.

 

For LAC this site indicates that internet penetration has increased there by a factor of ten during the past decade and that current penetration rates are: South America 34.7%; Central America: 22.6%; Caribean:22% . Another interesting report is Measuring Global Public Access to ICT: Landscape Study Summary Reports from 25 Countries Around the World[x] which describes ICT use in libraries, telecenters, Internet Cafes and other public venues. Eight of the twenty-five countries in the report are in LAC.

 

And there is the Pew Internet & American Life Project. [xi], probably the most valuable source of studies based on actually interviewing its subjects, not simply summarizing unobtrusive data. A researcher will find a vast number of topics covered, from blogging behavior to digital divide to Internet effects in daily life.

Popular Press Finally, sometimes a researcher will have trouble finding current information about ICT in development from the “normal” sources like those above, since they concentrate on a broader agenda, but there are plenty of opportunities available from popular news sources too. I will include two about LAC, as examples. The first has to do with a surprising ICT application in one of the world’s poorest nations,  Haiti .  Pulitzer prize-winning writer Nicholas Kristof recently reported in the New York Times a fascinating approach in Haiti for using a cell-phone to transfer money at a rural store. It was set up by an NGO financed by the US , Mercy Corps. Each month $40 is transferred into an eligible person’s cell phone account. Here’s Kristof’s description of how it works:

 

“I took one of these phones and walked into a humble little grocery shop with no electricity — “Rosie Boutique,” named for the owner’s little daughter — and became the first person to make a cell phone purchase there. I typed the codes into my phone, and then both my phone and the store’s phone received instantaneous text messages saying that the transfer was complete. The food was now mine. “[xii]

Another example is using blogs and daily business sources for key ICT trends. In LAC an excellent source is Business News Americas (BNAmericas.com) which offers a wide array of information for daily downloads, based on collecting industry-wide blogs and information sites.. While many services of BN Americas are fee-based, others, like headlines of telecom news, are available at no cost and provide valuable information. Here’s a recent example

“Total mobile revenues are projected to grow just over 4 percent annually, while revenues from fixed-line (broadband and voice) services will grow just over 2 percent annually. Revenues will be driven by wireless and broadband subscriber annual growth rates that average 6 percent and 15 percent respectively. While this is far below the stunning growth rates achieved over the previous five years, it’s well above projected growth rates in Europe and North America .”[xiii]

Summary 

I have described close to a dozen ways to gain high quality data and analysis  about ICT at low or no cost. The normal caveats apply. First, be sure to take note of any restrictions on reproduction and distribution of these sources. Second, each source has a purpose and sometimes an agenda in its data collection, so the researcher needs to be conscious of what may lie behind the numbers and summaries. Third, while the methodology used by ITU, World Bank, Economist/IBM, Pugh, UN, Harvard’s Beckman Center, and the other sources I have suggested, is described in their documents in great detail—usually in an appendix or separate chapter—it must be reviewed and considered carefully. Free does not guarantee high quality, even from a well-known, trusted source It should be remembered that there are many highly respected organizations who provide ICT analysis for a fee, like Telegeography, and which have data and graphics that are unique.  Each researcher needs to judge the level of detail and analysis that’s needed. But many of these free sites may be underutilized or underappreciated, in spite of the excellence of their content, so I urge the reader to take a look. 

 



[i] Anderson, C, Free-the Future of a Radical Price (New York, Hyperion, 2009)

[ii]  ITU site Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Statistics

http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/

[iii] Measuring the Information Society 2010  http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/publications/idi/2010/Material/MIS_2010_without_annex_4-e.pdf

 

[iv] Inter-American Development Bank, Economic Development and Inclusion through Local Broadband Access Networks http://idbdocs.iadb.org/wsdocs/getdocument.aspx?docnum=2118570

[v] Intelligence Unit of Economist Magazine and IBM,  Digital Economy Rankings 2010-- Beyond E-Readiness

http://graphics.eiu.com/upload/EIU_Digital_economy_rankings_2010_FINAL_WEB.pdf

 

[vi] UN  Department of Economic and Social Affairs E-Government Survey 2010 Leveraging e-government at a time of financial and economic http://www2.unpan.org/egovkb/documents/2010/E_Gov_2010_Complete.pdf

[vii] United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Information Economy Report 2010 ICTs, Enterprises and Poverty Alleviation http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/ier2010_embargo2010_en.pdf

 

[viii] Harvard University Law School, Berkman Center,  Next Generation Connectivity http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/sites/cyber.law.harvard.edu/files/Berkman_Center_Broadband_Final_Report_15Feb2010.pdf

[ix] Worldstats site http://www.internetworldstats.com/

 

[x] University of Washington Center for Information and Society, Measuring Global Public Access to ICT: Landscape Study Summary Reports from 25 Countries Around the World https://digital.lib.washington.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/1773/16292/TASCHA_Gomez_MeasuringPublicAccess_2009.pdf?sequence=1

 

[xi] Pew Internet & American Life Project, http://www.pewinternet.org/About-Us.aspx

[xii] Kristof, N. I’ve Seen the Future (in Haiti), New York Times, December 4, 2010

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/opinion/05kristof.html

 

[xiii] BN Americas site BNamericas.com August 31, 2010