MANILA, January 6, 2004 (STAR) By Eden Estopace - The Philippines ranked poorly in the first global index on information and communications technology (ICT) access that was released recently by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

ITUís Digital Access Index (DAI) covered a total of 178 economies and measures the overall ability of countries to access and use ICT through eight variables, covering five areas ó infrastructure, affordability, knowledge, quality and usage Ė to provide an overall country score.

On a scale of zero to one, where one is considered the highest score and means the highest ICT access, the Philippines scored only 0.43 and shared a similar ranking with Maldives, Oman, Ukraine, Guyana, Iran, Botswana, Fiji and China.

However, the Philippines was not at the bottom of the heap. It shared the category "medium access" to ICT with 33 other countries with a score of 0.41 to 0.49. Included in this group were Thailand (0.48), Saudi Arabia (0.44), Jordan (0.45), Romania (0.48), Bosnia (0.46), Peru (0.44), Panama (0.47)and Venezuela (0.47).

Using the DAI scores, countries were classified into four digital access categories: high, upper, medium and low.

Those with the lowest ICT access scored 0.04 to 0.29, with Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Ethiopia, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Burundi at the bottom of the list.

Highest ICT Access

On the other hand, countries with the highest ICT access scored 0.70 to 0.85 on the DAI. The top 11 countries in ICT access are Sweden (0.85), Denmark (0.83), Iceland (0.82), South Korea (0.82), Norway (0.79), the Netherlands (0.79), Hong Kong (0.79), Finland (0.79), Taiwan (0.79) and Canada (0.78) and the United States (0.78).

Countries with upper ICT access, or those whose scores were between 0.53 and 0.69, included Ireland, Cyprus, Estonia, Spain, Greece Portugal and the United Arab Emirates.

The DAI formed part of the 2003 edition of the World Telecommunications Development Report (WTDR), which was published to coincide with the recently concluded World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

"It will be a vital reference for governments, international development agencies, non-governmental organizations and the private sector to assess national conditions in information and communications technology," the report said.

Index Parameters

In measuring the level of ICT access, the ITU counted as variables fixed telephone and mobile cellular subscribers per 100 inhabitants (under the infrastructure category); Internet access price as percentage of gross national income per capita (affordability); adult literacy and combined primary, secondary and tertiary school enrollment (knowledge); international Internet bandwidth per capita and broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants (quality); and Internet users per 100 inhabitants (usage).

Using these parameters, the five Asia-Pacific countries with "developed" digital access were South Korea (0.82), Hong Kong (0.79), Taiwan (0.79), Singapore (0.75) and Japan (0.75).

Those with "developing" digital access were Malaysia (0.57), Brunei Darussalam (0.55), Thailand (0.48), China (0.43) and Fiji (0.43).

The ITU said many of those in the top rankings per region "used ICT as a development enabler and government policies have helped them reach an impressive level of ICT access."

Progress In AsPac

As an example, it cited the Multimedia Super Corridor in Malaysia which is, incidentally, the highest ranked among Asian nations with developing digital access.

One of the many findings of this latest ITU report is that the so-called four "Asian tigers" Ė South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong Ė made the greatest progress in ICT over the last four years.

Posting the highest percentage change was South Korea, whose government has been strongly pushing for the use of ICT in all levels of society.

Based on the ITUís World Telecommunication Indicator database, South Korea also has the most number of broadband Internet subscribers.

Overall, the ITU said the results of its new Digital Access Index suggest that "it is time to redefine ICT access potential."

"Until now, limited infrastructure has often been regarded as the main barrier to bridging the Digital Divide," said Michael Minges of the ITUís Market, Economics and Finance Unit. "Our research, however, suggests that affordability and education are equally important factors."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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