New ITU report reviews progress towards global information society targets
Hyderabad, India - ITU’s World Telecommunication/ICT Development Report 2010 was launched today at the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-10), which is currently meeting in Hyderabad. The report provides a mid-term review of the progress made in creating a global information society by 2015, a commitment that governments agreed upon at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) which took place in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis in 2005.
Mobile technology leads to connectivity revolution
The report points to the tremendous growth and evolution in the area of mobile cellular technology, which has led to connecting many previously unconnected areas. “Today, nearly 90 per cent of the world’s population is covered by a mobile cellular network,” says ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré, “and even people in rural and remote areas now have the means to access the global information society”. Take the world’s two most populous countries in the world — India and China — where mobile technology has provided basic telephone services to over 90 per cent of villages. In many developing countries, fixed telephone lines are largely limited to urban areas. But today, more than half the rural households have a mobile telephone.
More effort needed to increase Internet access
“The number of Internet users has more than doubled since 2003, when the World Summit on the Information Society first met, and today more than 25 per cent of the world’s population is using the Internet,” says Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. “The importance of bringing people online is widely recognized, but more efforts are needed to increase the number of Internet users. While today 75 per cent of all households have a TV, only 25 per cent have Internet access. In the developing countries, home Internet penetration is as low as 12 per cent.”
Where home access to the Internet is low, it is particularly important for countries to invest in public Internet access. Many governments across the world are actively promoting public access and some are turning libraries, museums and post offices into Internet cafés. In Bhutan, for example, 40 per cent of all localities have a Public Internet Access Centre. Since 2003, the Royal Government of Bhutan, in cooperation with ITU, has been revamping post offices in remote and rural locations into ICT centres, allowing rural inhabitants to join the information society. In Mexico, almost 40 per cent of the 7000 public libraries offer visitors Internet access. All archives have a broadband Internet connection and efforts are being made to digitize all the information.
Many health care institutions and schools in developing countries deprived of high-speed Internet access
The report finds that the availability of ICTs in health institutions in developing countries is limited and more needs to be done to achieve the target of “connecting all health institutions to the Internet”, ideally through broadband. M-health, which refers to medical and public health practices that are supported by mobile devices, is another area with great potential and the report highlights that over 75 per cent of countries today have launched some m-health initiatives. This includes, for example, the use of text messages in South Africa, to support HIV/AIDS treatment.
Since WSIS, much progress has been made in the area of e-government. The target set by the Summit to “connect all local and central government departments” has been at least partially achieved, since almost all central governments have a web presence and provide basic information to their citizens. The next step is to ensure that all countries move towards more sophisticated and interactive online e-government applications and services, for example, to apply for a driver’s license, fill out a tax form, or to make online payments using a credit or debit card.
A central focus of the WSIS commitments is to bring schools online and to ensure that school curricula teach students how to use ICTs. Here, the report finds mixed results. While many schools in developing countries remain deprived of any form of Internet access, a number of countries have successfully brought ICTs to schools. Jordan, for example, has connected 80 per cent of its schools to the Internet and 73 per cent have a broadband connection. Its teaching force is highly qualified in the area of IT and the large majority of the country’s schools make use of Internet-assisted-instruction. At the same time, training a sufficient number of teachers to use and teach ICT skills remains a challenge, even in some developed countries.
The report further points to the lack of local content, in local languages on the Internet. The web is still largely dominated by the English language, even though only around 15 per cent of the world’s population understands it. On the other hand, the proportion of English-speaking Internet users is declining, suggesting that non-English speakers are increasingly going online. Another indication for the diversification of content on the Internet is the growing number of websites that are registered under country domain names. Some of the highest 2005-2009 growth rates in terms of newly registered domain names were found in India (.in), Russia (.ru) and China (.cn).
Goal to provide high speed online access to half the world’s population by 2015
Overall, the report concludes that while major achievements have been made over the past five years, substantial efforts are required in developing countries to achieve the goals and targets by 2015. The report makes three main recommendations on the policies and measures needed to help achieve the targets:
1. Ensure that half the world population has access to broadband by 2015
2. Build an ICT-literate society globally
3. Develop online content and applications
To this end, governments can take a number of concrete steps, such as licensing mobile broadband operators and ensuring that broadband infrastructure is accessible to all citizens. Policy-makers in developing countries, in partnership with the international community, should continue to commit resources to connecting educational institutions to ICTs and to adapt the curriculum. The development of online content and applications in local languages should be promoted, for example, through the digitization of books and documents to create an e-culture. With more than half of the Internet users speaking languages with non-Latin scripts, the recent opening up of Internet domain names to non-Latin script characters is an important development.
Finally, the report highlights the importance for setting clear policy targets and monitoring progress. To this end, it proposes a list of 50 concrete indicators to monitor the targets over the next five years, until 2015.
The report is the result of a joint effort among several international organizations, led by ITU, and includes contributions from UNESCO, WHO and UNDESA, as well as from representatives of civil society. It reviews each of the ten targets agreed upon at the World Summit on the Information Society, which range from connecting villages, schools, health centres, libraries and government agencies to information and communication technologies (ICTs) and to developing online content. It is the first global effort to identify quantitative measures to show how far the world has come in building an information society, and what remains to be done.
Within the UN system, ITU is the main source of internationally comparable data and statistics on ICT. The Market Information and Statistics Division of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) collects, harmonizes and disseminates more than 100 telecommunication and ICT indicators from over 200 economies worldwide. Data are accessible online through the ICT Eye portal, on CD and in print publications. The Market Information and Statistics Division regularly publishes analytical reports illustrating the latest trends in the sector.