Despite increasing deployment of broadband infrastructure and growth of mobile technology, Africa is the lowest-scoring region in the ICT Development Index (IDI) released by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) last week.
The 2011 edition of Measuring the Information Society scores the level of advancement of ICT in 152 countries worldwide, comparing progress made between 2008 and 2010.
The IDI, which ranked countries according to their level of ICT access, use and skills, puts the Republic of Korea as the world's most advanced ICT economy followed by Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Finland. Most countries that rank high on the index are from Europe and Asia Pacific; the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Uruguay rank first within their regions.
However, Africa remains the region with the lowest IDI values. Of the forty African countries listed, only six of them made the first 100 on the 2010 IDI. They are Mauritius (69), Seychelles (71), Tunisia (84), Morocco (90), Egypt (91) and South Africa (97).
This year's report includes a special focus on broadband, looking at speed, quality of service and international bandwidth available in different countries worldwide and how this is affecting broadband take-up in the developed and developing worlds.
Among the developing regions, Africa had the highest mobile growth rate. Mobile penetration has risen from just one in 50 people at the beginning of 10 years ago to over one fourth of the population today, the report noted.
"While the IDI leaders are all from the developed world, it is extremely encouraging to see that the most dynamic performers are developing countries," ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun Touré said in a release. "The 'mobile miracle' is putting ICT services within reach of even the most disadvantaged people and communities. Our challenge now is to replicate that success in broadband."
However, the ITU report stated that Africa's fixed broadband service remains prohibitively expensive and in 2010 still represented almost three times the monthly average per capita income.
Even though new submarine cables are providing African countries with access to more and cheaper international Internet bandwidth, the report stated, it still lags far behind other regions in terms of the bandwidth available to Internet users. For Africans to benefit from the continent's increased connectivity, operators must acquire greater amounts of international Internet bandwidth, expand and improve core networks, and make network access infrastructure available, as well as affordable, according to the report.
The report also analyzed the digital divide among Internet users, examining how factors like age, gender, educational level, and location affect people's ability to get online. The ITU indicated that targeting students may be the most effective way to increase the approximately 21 percent of the population that use the Internet in developing countries, through connecting educational institutions and improving enrollment rates.