Ict Will Increase Still Further the Divergence Between Rich and Poor Countries
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Information and Communication Technology (ICT) provides developing countries unprecedented potentials to initiate a catch-up process towards developed countries. It supplies efficient means to increase productivity, helps to integrate economies in the world market, delivers better education possibilities and improves healthcare services. ICT accounts for half of the productivity growth in modern economies (Reding, 2005).
Rich countries are definitely better able to exploit ICT than poor countries; вЂњinequalities in access to ICT are still around twice average levels of income inequalityвЂќ (UNCTAD, 2005). This is partially due to a more favourable economic starting position but other factors are at play. Nevertheless, potentials to reduce the gap through clever adoption of ICT exist together with successful examples. Policies and how policies are implemented by governments are the key factors to achieve this ambitious goal.
In the mid-1990s, under the Clinton administration the term вЂњdigital divideвЂќ came into regular usage. The term refers to the gap between those with regular, effective access to digital and information technology, and those without access (Warschauer, 2003).
The adoption of new technologies requires investments; a quick glance at GDP data allows to draw a line separating countries that can afford ICT and countries that cannot: diffusion is clearly influenced by economic factors. However, in spite of such evidence, wealth distribution alone cannot account for the whole digital divide. The consideration that countries with similar economic conditions show significant differences in ICT adoption rates has drawn scholarsвЂ™ attention to other factors such as cultural and social aspects. It is important to consider these factors in defining policies to bridge the digital divide.
The digital divide can be broken up in three major components:
The current distribution of ICT outputs (appliances and applications to consumers) is openly unequal. Considering for example the Index of Technological Progress (Rodriguez and Wilson, 1999) which combines television sets, mobile phones, personal computers, internet hosts, fax machines, R&D as percentage of GDP, technicians, scientists and telephone mainlines, it is apparent that rich countries are far better off than poor ones: the top ten economies in the ITP world ranking are all OECD members while the bottom 10 economies are all in sub-Saharan Africa.
This distribution is confirmed by more recent data on internet penetration, broadband subscribers, mobile network and 3G services: Europe and the Americas still have the lionвЂ™s share in geographical distribution (ITU, 2006).
Further, more than 80% of the worlds internet users are in OECD countries, which have about 20% of the planets population (OECD, 2006).
Clearly, ICT diffusion is strongly associated with GDP level and the first barrier in setting up ICT infrastructures resides in lack of investments.
The theory of reasoned action (Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975) explains how culture influence individual behaviour. In the case of ICT, culture may create collective attitudes favouring the diffusion of new technologies or pose obstacles to it. Using the вЂњHofstede framework for assessing cultureвЂќ (Hofstede, 2001) it is possible to evaluate the influence of cultural factors. A statistical analysis conducted on this basis (Erumban and de Jong, 2004) has demonstrated that low levels of вЂњpower distanceвЂќ, i.e. the extent to which the less powerful members of a society accept that power is distributed unequally and low level of вЂњuncertainty avoidanceвЂќ, i.e. the extent to which people in a society are used to cope with anxiety by minimizing uncertainty are common features among countries with high diffusion of ICT. The first result is consistent with the notion that people tend to be more innovative when they have more autonomy and when the leaders have less authoritative style. The second result confirms the idea that ICT is an investment and as such it involves risks and uncertainty (Stoneman, 2001).
Another important factor driving for the digital divide comes from institutions and government policy. There is an intuitive link between technological progress and civil liberties. This hypothesis has been confirmed by a correlation between the Index of Civil Liberties (Freedom House, 1999) and the Index of Technological Progress: a transition from the worst level