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SPECIAL REPORT THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

 

THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

 

Bridging development through technology


By YOUSAF HAROON MUJAHID

Oct 21 - 27, 2002
.

As mankind starts its journey into the new millennium we notice the two major forces shaping up the future of this world, reducing geographic boundaries, bringing cultures and societies closer to each other - are Globalization and Information Communication and Technology (ICT) - creating a paradox of wealth and poverty; bridging gap between individuals and isolating them at the same time; creating simultaneously the information haves and information have-nots; empowering people contribute and restricting communities to participate. On one hand, despite many steps forward in social and economic conditions around the world in recent decades, there remain huge disparities in the quality of human existence. We are now at a critical juncture of time and place where unprecedented global flows in information, products, people, capital and ideas offer great potential for radical improvements in human development, but left unabated, they may also serve to worsen and entrench the spiral of poverty which already exists in many communities and countries limiting people to unleash the prowess of ICT revolution and creating gaps of income generation, information access, technology transfer, generation, urban-rural, demographic, and literacy.

At the end of 20th century, globalization phenomenon thorough movement of goods, services, people and information across national boundaries, has resulted into opening up of economies and societies accelerating global integration of economies through the flow of capital and trans-border production. Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) fueling the globalization process clearly demonstrated that the world is no longer a collection of relatively autonomous neighborhoods that are only marginally connected. Information and ideas can be accessed in all corners of the globe at the click of a mouse button. The international economies are becoming more and more interconnected via internet and telecommunication technologies.

The global integration of countries has brought not only opportunities of economic growth but challenges of development. These challenges like poverty, issues of food security, water scarcity, aging population, cultural loss, and environmental degradation must be confronted with forces that reshape the development perspective today: innovations in technology, the spread of knowledge, the growth of population, the financial integration of the world markets. Technological advances in communication have made it possible to travel around the world through a computer window, doing business, learning, playing, and sight seeing, chatting, banking and learning- all for a fraction of cost. Here arises an important question: How can advancements of ICT today can provide the bridge between the global disparities existing today? Or these will multiply the gulfs!

THE DEVELOPMENT CHALLENGE

Poor countries and poor people not only differ from rich not only because they are less resourceful but also less knowledge has today become the fundamental factor increasing the gap in between them. Poor people live today without fundamental freedom of action and choice that the rich take for granted. Poor lack adequate food and shelter, education and health, deprivations facing extreme vulnerability to ill health, economic dislocation and natural disasters. Today, among 6 billion people of the world, 3 billion live on less than $2 a day, and 1.2 billion live on less than $1 a day, with 44% living in South Asia. This destitution persists even though human condition have improved more in the past century than in the rest of the history - global wealth, global connections, and technological capabilities have never been greater but the distribution of global gains remain unequal. The average income in the richest 20 countries is 37 times the average of the poorest 20 - a gap that has increased over the years to the extent that it has doubled in the last 40 years. The rich countries benefit more form the opportunities of the global economy because of many reasons that are state-of-the-art technology, human capital, modern means of communications, better infrastructure.

Whether national or international development policy is to create sustainable improvements in the quality of life for all people through raising per capita incomes and consumption is part of that goal at one end and on the other reducing poverty, expanding access to health services, and increasing educational levels - as a comprehensive approach to development. The evidence of the past demonstrates that there are no easy approaches to gain sustainable development but efforts to achieve are worth while. These approaches should be multidimensional involving all the stakeholders of the community and society at large, venturing public and private partnerships.

Keeping in view the paradigm shifts which are taking place at the international and local levels it is observed that the panacea of socio-economic challenges which the world today faces requires a comprehensive rapprochement of mobilizing the forces of future - let it be adoption of ICT and governance.

THE KNOWLEDGE DYNAMIC

"Visions of a global knowledge-based economy and universal electronic commerce, characterized by the `death of distance' must be tempered by the reality that half the world's population has never made a telephone call, much less accessed the Internet" Knowledge is electrifying like light. Weightless and intangible easily traveling the world, enlightening the lives of people everywhere. Due to the phenomenon of globalization and development of ICT the world has taken a paradigm shift to enter into the knowledge-led era of economic prosperity and opportunity. Yet billions of people still live in the darkest of poverty — unnecessarily. Poor are at greater disadvantage and differ from the rich not because of income levels but because of lack of knowledge. Yes, knowledge is often costly to create, and that is why much of it is created in industrial countries. But developing countries can acquire knowledge overseas and at home by encouraging local initiatives and awareness programs. Knowledge illuminates every economic transaction, revealing preferences, giving clarity to exchanges, informing markets. And it is lack of knowledge that causes markets to collapse, or never to come into being. Approaching development from a knowledge perspective — that is, adopting policies to increase both types of knowledge, know-how and information of technology - can improve the beleaguered gaps which exist in between the developed and developing worlds today known as knowledge gaps. Closing these gaps is not easy. Developing countries are pursuing to over come but the dynamic of knowledge gap is that gap in the capacity to create knowledge. In order to live and to see a better tomorrow, to improve health, better education, and to reduce human disparities is only possible through provision of equitable and meaningful access of knowledge resources. For countries in the vanguard of the world economy, the balance between knowledge and resources has shifted so far toward the former that knowledge has become the most important factor determining the standard of living. Today's most technologically advanced countries are truly knowledge-based generating new wealth from their innovations, creating millions of knowledge related jobs in an array of disciplines that have emerged.

Here the most important matter of fact which enabled the phenomenal economic advancement is not merely creation of knowledge but movement of knowledge through integrated networks with in the country and around the globe. Looking closer, one would find a definite congruence of the velocity of knowledge transfer, and scientific and economic developments. As information has become the lifeblood of knowledge economies the ability to acquire and transfer knowledge have created a great gulf between the information haves and information have-nots promulgated as the Digital Divide.

THE DIGITAL DIVIDE: Broadening the Gap between Civilizations

"...there are more telephones in New York City than in all of rural Asia, more Internet accounts in London than all of Africa. As much as 80% of the world's population has never made a phone call..."

Despite many steps forward in social and economic conditions around the world in recent decades, there remain huge disparities in the quality of human existence. Unprecedented global flows in information, products, people, capital and ideas offer great potential for radical improvements in human development, but left unabated, they may also serve to worsen and entrench the spiral of poverty which already exists in many communities and countries. Numerous factors influence the extent and speed of social and economic development - not least political stability, physical infrastructure, basic literacy and basic health care. There is no suggestion that ICT can eliminate the need for these or offer a panacea for all development problems. But detailed analysis of experience around the world reveals ample evidence that, used in the right way and for the right purposes, ICT can have a dramatic impact on achieving specific social and economic development goals as well as play a key role in broader national development strategies. The real benefits lie not in the provision of technology per se, but rather in its application to create powerful social and economic networks by dramatically improving communication and the exchange of information.

ICT can play a vital role in facilitating education, healthcare, business opportunity, employment, entertainment, schmoozing, information acquiring - affecting every aspect of human life. Above all due to the ability to be any where at any time or to put it this way that everywhere all-the-time at a fraction of cost has brought revolution in the way today people use ICT.

The discussion of how to bring the opportunities offered by ICT to the people who need them most has been muddled by arguments over exactly how to define the problem: is it about insufficient access to PCs? training? local content? poverty? There are many perspectives on the digital divide with different connotations and focus. Some argue that computers, connections and training will solve the problem, but there is disagreement about whether they should be provided by government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector, or if the market will solve the physical access problem on its own. Others contend that government action (or inaction) hinders the development and use of ICT, and until policies are changed, the digital divide can not be solved. Many see beyond the physical access problem and focus on lost opportunity for people that are unable to effectively use ICT because they do know how to use it or they do not understand how it can be relevant to their lives. Underlying social issues like basic literacy, poverty, and healthcare also loom large, and some question whether and how technology can become part of the solution to these critical problems.

The term "Digital Divide" refers to the gap in access to information and communication. Ability to provide equal access to ICT is largely depending on the availability of communication facilities in order to participate in the global information society. This will include main telephone lines, mobile telephones, personal computers, email and internet facilities. This divide is not only applicable for Information Technology, it generates at every aspect of our daily life. Some times it seems same as the division between Developed & Developing nations or Rich & Poor communities. The term Digital Divide has become the front line issue in the IT as the world economy and life depends on computer technology & communication science. Every aspect of daily affairs is absolutely depends on computer, but the have not groups of the society are missing the facilities and developments of the IT revolution & falling far behind the high tech advantages. This backwardness of community is generating the Digital Divide gap in the society as shown in Figure A as the disparity of digital divide exists in between the North America, Scandinavia, Westren Europe and Emerging Markets.

In fact, the digital divide is a complex problem that manifests itself in different ways in different countries. It presents both practical and policy challenges. Moreover, it is apparent that solutions which work in developed countries cannot simply be transplanted to developing country environments: solutions must be based on an understanding of local needs and conditions for integrating technology into society in an effective, sustainable way so that people can put technology to use to improve their lives: what we call "real access" to technology.

DEFINING DIGITAL DIVIDE

There are five basic perspectives on what the digital divide is and how to solve it, which focus on various elements of ICTs and ICT use:

1. The digital divide is a lack of physical connections and training - computer hardware, network access and (in some arguments), training, is required to bridge the digital divide government, NGO and private initiatives should supply them;
2. The digital divide is a lack of computers, access and training, but the problem will solve itself in time - computer hardware and network access are required, but the market and selective development projects will solve this problem on its own by steadily lowering prices, fostering an IT training sector, and extending infrastructure to outlying regions
3. The digital divide is a lack of computers, access and training, exacerbated by ineffective government policy - government actions (or inaction) hinder the development and use of computers and until these policies are changed, the digital divide cannot be solved;
4. The digital divide is a lost opportunity, with disadvantaged groups being unable to effectively take advantage of ICTs to improve their lives - what really matters is how the technology is used, and its incredible potential to improve quality of life for disadvantaged groups; effective use requires computers, connections, training, locally relevant content, and real applications of the technology to fit immediate needs.
5. The digital divide is a reflection of the lack of basic literacy, poverty, health and other social issues - computers are useful, but nothing will enable a society to bridge the digital divide until basic literacy, poverty, and healthcare issues are addressed.

DIGITAL DIVIDE REALITY

Another way to understand the perspectives on the digital divide is to look at why people believe it exists and how they believe it can be addressed:

1.The digital divide comes from the normally slow diffusion of new technologies - the digital divide is the natural and expected result of wealthier people and countries experimenting with and adopting technologies because they have disposable income. Such "divides" have occurred with every major technology including car, radio, television, and telephone. Over time, the divide closes as the technology becomes less expensive and more tested.
2.The digital divide occurs because people don't know how to use the technology, or it is not made relevant to their lives - even when people have access to information technologies such as the Internet, they often do not have the training to use them, do not have relevant and interesting content or they are blocked by cultural and political mores against using it.
3.The divide mirrors the existing landscape of technology infrastructure and wealth distribution countries that do not have literacy and electricity are simply unable to effectively adopt information technology. Moreover, countries in extreme debt are unable to finance technology investments. Countries that are slow to adopt precursors and prerequisites for information technology face a playing field sloped against them, such as African countries not adopting electronic switching networks
4. The digital divide results from the real difficulties in "rolling out" the technology around the world - the rural-urban divide especially (which occurs around the world) is caused in part by the inherent difficulty of providing network access, let alone electricity, in extremely rural regions.
5. Government policies have failed to support, or even discouraged information technology growth, exacerbating the digital divide - many also point to weak or poor government policies and a woefully inadequate response to the opportunities and demands of information technology.
6.The digital divide is a matter of personal choice - some people simply don't want to use information technology and thus the "digital divide" is partly an illusion. While income levels are a major factor currently in the divide, these issues will fade over time as the market continues to push down computer and access prices. Yet, a divide may remain - because of individual family choices.

MEASURING DIGITAL DIVIDE

In addition to communications infrastructures, important indicators appear to be computer availability — and potentially the availability of alternative access through TVs or mobile phones — and Internet access. The digital divide among households appears to depend primarily on two variables, income and education. Other variables, such as house hold size and type, age, gender, racial and linguistic backgrounds and location also play an important role. The differences in PC and Internet access by household income are very large and increasing, but access in lower income groups is rising. Largely through its effects on income, the higher the level of education, the more likely individuals are to have access to ICTs. Other important indicators concern differences in the profiles of countries, individuals and businesses that use, and make the most use of, the possibilities offered by the new information technologies and the Internet.

Providing access to technology is critical, but it must be about more than just physical access. Computers and connections are insufficient if the technology is not used effectively because it is not affordable; people do not understand how to put it to use, or they are discouraged from using it; or the local economy cannot sustain its use.

Internet usage numbers are most often cited to describe the divide as in Figure B. The spread of Internet users among the world's population is much more unequal than that of the use of other ICT such as TV or telephones. The inequality of Internet usage is even bigger than the spread of GDP between the world's rich and poor countries, and larger than disparities in other technologies such as televisions. Access to the Internet is gauged by the number of "registered online computers" computers with valid IP addresses on the Internet. The division between countries is evident here as well. By far the most registered online computers are in the United States, with other developed nations close behind. Basic access to computers is usually measured against the total number of computers in a country, or number per capita — both of which illustrate stark divisions. For example, for the world, there were 70.6 PCs per 1,000 people, with 311.2 per 1,000 in developed countries, 7.5 / 10000 in Sub-Saharan Africa, 2.9 / 1000 in South Asia.

Within countries, there are significant divisions in the use of ICT along the lines of education, income, race, gender, age, language, and disability. In highly developed countries, some domestic divisions between income, education and ethnic groups are decreasing for basic access to PCs and the Internet. The most ICT rich groups, especially the wealthy and educated, have almost reached saturation - the majority of people who want to have computers and access to the Internet have it. A fundamental question that must be addressed before one can state whether inequalities in ICT are growing or closing: Is the inequality a lack of an existing technology, or is it because of the relative gap between "haves" and "have-nots", regardless of the particular technology? On the whole, current technologies are diffusing across national, ethnic, gender, income and age boundaries, but new technologies are causing new divisions creating a difference in internet penetration and GNP per capita as per Figure C.

Adoption of broadband (from fiber connections to wireless broadband) access has followed the same pattern as that of the computer - primarily among wealthy, white individuals and large companies. Since the technology is newer (and more expensive), it currently shows an even wider gap around the world. Internet enabled phones have shown a similar pattern — though here Scandinavian countries lead instead of the US. Another relevant technology is Voice over IP - using the computer (and Internet) to replace telephone calls, especially internationally. Technologies like WAP (wireless application protocol) supporting internet and multimedia access over wireless are fueling the penetration of internet related technologies to a climax spreading across income, age, and gender groups. Figure D clearly depicts that in near future wireless technologies shall play a dominant role in the debate of digital divide. Beyond increasing bandwidth, future lifestyles will be affected by applications of the wireless 3G technology. Building on 2G success, 3G provides next generation improvements in global roaming, seamless services worldwide and personalization. 3G unleashes the power of the internet through packet and circuit data up to 2 Mbit/s. Its application greatly enhances mobile banking, stock trading, mobile cash, authentication and payments for internet shopping, and payment systems.

Since many developing nations have telephone monopolies, and restrict or ban VoIP since it could circumvent the monopoly, this policy issue threatens to cause a continued divide. But some have commented that VoIP may be outdated before it becomes widely used. The early adopters and benefactors of ICT in developing countries are usually large and foreign companies, and educated middle-upper class workers from privileged socio-political groups in the capital cities. According to the World Bank, 59% of women in South Asia are illiterate, but only 35% of men are; a gender digital divide should be expected, and attacked even more vigorously. What overall effect does this process have on society? Since large and foreign companies benefit first from ICT, they gain comparative advantage over their rivals. ICT-enabled management and accounting processes facilitates their mergers, acquisitions, and strategic alliances with competitors, leading to increased size and consolidation of ICT-enabled businesses. Some argue that this would increase the competitiveness of these companies in the global market, since they can leverage wide resources against similarly large international rivals. This would benefit the original country by drawing in jobs and allowing companies to invest in long term R&D in ICT. Thus a virtuous cycle is created whereby the country enters the global market place and bridges the digital divide at the same time. The economic boon in the country will facilitate the slow diffusion of technology and training throughout the population, thus bridging the internal digital divide as well.

DIGITAL OPPORTUNITY INITIATIVES: Bridging the Gap through Digital Provide

Without the sheer scale and pace of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) it would not be possible to connect vast networks of individuals across geographic boundaries at negligible marginal cost. This is why decisions about the use of ICT will be critical in determining which road we go down, to wider development or greater inequality. The old debate, about choosing between ICT and other development imperatives, has shifted from one of trade-offs to one of complementarily. The Digital Opportunity Initiative (DOI) aims to provide some fresh answers for this new reality.

The DOI aims to help mobilize, focus and coordinate action by developing a strategic approach to harnessing the benefits of ICT for sustainable economic and social development. DOI focus on efforts to reduce the digital divide. Lessons learned to date about the value of ICT for achieving development goals, and will offer an analytical framework that how developing countries like Pakistan and the international community can use as a guide for designing and implementing a more strategic approach to the use of ICT for development.

How are organizations, individuals, governments, and businesses actually working to address international and domestic digital divides? The approaches taken are about as varied as the perspectives on the problem itself. There are literally tens of thousands of self-identified "digital divide initiatives" in existence, and many more that do not label themselves as such but work toward similar goals. The following model is a definitive strategy to reduce the digital divide through integrating all sectors to ICT.

The following common categories are applied to the numerous initiatives that address the digital divide:

1. Infrastructure providers
2. Physical access providers
3. Training programmes
4. Telecentres
5. School computer programmes and distance learning programmes
6. Online information resources - relevant content
7. E-government
8. E-commerce
9.
Healthcare
10.
Agriculture
11. Other applications of ICT
12. Technology development

PAKISTAN'S DIGITAL PROVIDE

Pakistan's national policies have been consistently focused on the development of a domestic ICT sector and market earlier (1980-1990s) the focus was on the creation on a diversified industrial sector and development of technical capabilities. Recently, the emphasis has shifted to liberalization of economy and building up ICT infrastructure - changing strategy to support domestic capacity from protection to promotion.

With persistence of large fiscal and current account deficits and the build up of public and foreign debt have been major source of macroeconomic imbalances during 1990s in Pakistan. Failures in enhancing expenditure requirements on one hand, and stagnation in exports on the other exacerbated economic difficulties. A number of economic measures are taken to control the helm of affairs which are: Tax Reforms; Trade & Tariff Reforms; Deregulation & Privatization; Fiscal Sector Reform; Good Governance Initiative; Fiscal Transparency Initiatives; Poverty Alleviation Program are most noticeable.

Since August 2000, the Government has announced an integrated policy on Information Technology (IT), which has been a welcome step towards modernization and globalization. The vision of this IT policy is to harness the potential of ICT to country's sustainable development and national capacity building. The policy focuses on

i. Human Resource Development
ii. Infrastructure Development
iii. Software Industry Development
iv. Hardware Industry Development
v. Wider access and use of Internet
vi. IT Promotion and awareness

The Telegraph and Telephone (T&T) Department was converted into Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation on 15th December 1990 by delegating the powers to the Board of Directors for better functioning of the telecommunication system in the country. Thereafter, on 1st January 1996, the said system was reorganized by establishing Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the National Telecommunication Corporation (NTC) and Frequency Allocation Board and Pakistan

Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL). Government is further committed to deregulate and liberalize telecommunications industry through privatization of state-owned monopoly i.e., Pakistan Telecommunications Company Limited (PTCL) under ITU and WTO Agreements by 2002 opening up the telecom sector for private sector and international competition.

In response to government's policy, the per capita internet prevalence is growing in an exponentional manner. Since the introduction of internet in 1996 its usage has grown at more than 50% per annum and has progressed from a humble start of 10,000 users in 1998 to 1.3 million internet users in year 2000. Universal Internet Access has reached 379 cities by PTCL and it is expected to exceed 400 cities by June 2001. A reduction from US$60,000 to US$6,000 per month/2Mbs in internet bandwidth costs was initiated for software companies, educational institutions and call centers.

Like many other Asian economies Pakistan has focused on developing its export sector and increasing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as means of generating employment and foreign exchange. Due to the significant erosion of Pak Rupee value by devaluation, huge foreign debt, influx of imports, ever increasing demand for dollar and low foreign reserves ICT sector is identified as the key contributor to lax these pressures. Government of Pakistan has chalked out a pragmatic program to become an export-oriented economy.

A number of initiatives include encouraging local in entrepreneurs to tap foreign markets are advised and guided by SMEDA (Small and Medium Enterprise Development Authority) and EPB (Export Promotion Bureau). EBP will be providing online export leads to the potential exporters.

Addition to this business incubator is established in Singapore and IT Marketing Offices will be opened up in USA. In a recent IT Exhibition - IT Commerce Network Asia 2001 MOU's worth US$300 million where signed between foreign companies and local counterparts.

The Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) is an organization which has been established by the Government of Pakistan to ensure development and implementation of a national policy framework for software and related services industry in Pakistan, promotion of software exports, and match making between local and foreign software companies. A special focus was on developing and executing the "Software Technology Parks (STP)". The Software Technology Parks (STPs) for Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore have been conceived as one-stop-shop for all software houses which seek working conditions conducive to creative inexhaustible bandwidth and power supply, "high-IQ" (or not just intelligent) buildings, minimum regulatory overheads, maximum flexibility in the choice and use of space and minimal costs. The project companies which will build and administer these STPs will ensure that all these facilities are available with the barest minimum hassle to the software houses themselves. Currently a number of renowned IT and software development companies are housed in Software Technology Parks contributing a great deal in the government vision to for exporting IT products and services.

The following are some investment-policy measures which the government has undertaken to ensure robust market environment for ICT sector in the country:

•Software and Hardware Development has been declared as industry and are placed within Hi-Tech Category, which enjoys zero rate of custom duty on import of equipment and 90% of PME cost as First Year Allowance (FYA).
•Income tax exemption is available on income from export of software
•State Bank of Pakistan has allowed opening of Internet Merchant Account within Pakistan to promote E-commerce.
•IT ordinance 2000 is under advance stage of preparation to give legal protection/recognition to digital signature, electronic documentation and Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs).
•SECP has prepared draft set of rules for Venture Capital Companies & Funds - and are in the process of fine-tuning.
•Pak-Libya Holding has already successfully conducted a nation-wide IT Talent Hunt Program - to have a ready base for Pakistan Venture Capital
•Looking forward to $ 1 billion FDI up to 2005-06 in IT & Telecom Sector ($ 670 million committed

With all such investment incentives to ICT sector the government aims to see the IT sector as a major contributor to the national economic growth of the country, with a significant contribution to software exports.

A critical element of Pakistan's approach has been focus on education. Pakistan has developed high-level of awareness of quality IT education which highlights a great deal that education institutions, both private and public, can produce appropriately skilled knowledge workers and professionals in conformity with the current needs of ICT age. Given the limited number of engineers and technology workers, both the government and private sector have earmarked on an aggressive campaign to transform the knowledge base of the country in alignment with the requirements of high-tech sector. The National University of Science & Technology (NUST) and COMSATS Institute of Information Technology ((CIIT), and Foundation for Advancement of Science & Technology (FAST) are some leading education providers in ICT. Besides a large number of private and public universities are providing bachelors and masters degrees in Information Technology Management, Computer Sciences and Multimedia. Above all, government has launched a Virtual University for Distance Learning and an Education Portal integrating all the related information about all the education institutions in the country.

With the government's commitment to encourage ICT growth and investment a number of private enterprises have shown their expression of interest. Align Tech has established the first call center (100 agents) in Lahore alone. Cisco, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft and Oracle are ready to open regional offices in Pakistan. Oracle will be investing US$20 million in training in Sindh, whereas, Spura Group of Malaysia is going to invest US$86 million for setting up 1,000 Kiosks-ATMs based networks for utility bills collection. Akhtar Group of UK with the government is taking up a Telehousing Project of US$10 million. Huawei Technologies and Motorla will be investing US$2.5 million in IT Center and US$150 million in expanding cellular network, respectively.

Besides, venture capital fund rules have been approved and VC funds are granted seven (7) years tax holiday, whereas, five (5) major VC funds are launched in private sector. A US$50 million VC fund has been floated. Securities and Exchange Commission (SECP) rules for IPO (Initial Public Offering) are set in place.

In a nutshell Pakistan is in a go-go for information technology revolution!

STATE OF E-READINESS

In any given country, different sectors of the population are putting information technology to productive use and the categories of race, gender, income and so forth do not capture the full complexity of this unequal use. Nor do these categories really identify what barriers exist in different communities and countries against people using information technology more effectively. On the national level - any given country has a number of factors in place to benefit from information technology and other areas that aren't using ICT - the divide is not simply developed versus developing world, nor are all factors missing in one country, and present in another. A deeper understanding of ICT use can be gained from the wealth of "e-readiness" assessments around the world. The e-readiness assessments seek to gauge how ready a country is to participate in the information economy or information society. "E-Readiness" measures the capacity of nations to participate in the digital economy. E-Readiness is the source of national economic growth in the networked century and the prerequisite for successful e-business. Neither countries nor companies can prosper unless the basic building blocks are in place.

"E-readiness" is shorthand for the extent to which a country's business environment is conducive to Internet-based commercial opportunities. It is a concept that spans a wide range of factors, from the sophistication of the telecoms infrastructure to the security of credit-card transactions and the literacy of the population.

THE EIU E-BUSINESS-READINESS RANKINGS

Rank

Countries Business environment ranking, 2000-04* Connectivity rating+ E-business- readiness ranking#

1

US

8.69

9

8.8

2

Sweden

8.26

9

8.6

3

Finland

8.21

9

8.6

4

Norway

8.00

9

8.5

5

Netherlands

8.84

8

8.4

6

UK

8.80

8

8.4

7

Canada

8.66

8

8.3

8

Singapore

8.55

8

8.3

9

Hong Kong

8.52

8

8.3

10

Switzerland

8.42

8

8.2

11

Ireland

8.42

8

8.2

12

Denmark

8.41

8

8.2

13

Germany

8.32

8

8.2

14

France

8.17

8

8.1

15

Belgium

8.17

8

8.1

16

Australia

8.14

8

8.1

17

New Zealand

8.10

8

8.1

18

Austria

7.96

8

8.0

19

Italy

7.68

8

7.8

20

Israel

7.61

8

7.8

21

Japan

7.43

8

7.7

22

Spain

8.01

7

7.5

23

Chile

7.85

7

7.4

24

South Korea

7.30

7

7.2

25

Portugal

7.59

6

6.8

26

Argentina

7.22

6

6.6

27

Taiwan

8.13

5

6.6

28

Thailand

7.27

5

6.1

29

Poland

7.15

5

6.1

30

Hungary

7.09

5

6.0

31

Czech Republic

7.07

5

6.0

32

Malaysia

6.91

5

6.0

33

Greece

6.90

5

6.0

34

Mexico

6.78

5

5.9

35

Brazil

6.37

5

5.7

36

South Africa

6.25

5

5.6

37

Slovakia

6.19

5

5.6

38

Indonesia

6.16

5

5.6

39

Turkey

6.06

5

5.5

40

Saudi Arabia

6.02

5

5.5

41

Bulgaria

5.61

5

5.3

42

Venezuela

5.51

5

5.3

43

Romania

5.45

5

5.2

44

Russia

5.16

5

5.1

45

Ukraine

4.79

5

4.9

46

Philippines

6.72

3

4.9

47

Peru

6.36

3

4.7

48

Colombia

6.13

3

4.6

49

Egypt

6.10

3

4.6

50

India

5.97

3

4.5

51

China

5.88

3

4.4

52

Sri Lanka

5.87

3

4.4

53

Ecuador

5.32

3

4.2

54

Vietnam

5.30

3

4.2

55

Pakistan

4.94

3

4.0

56

Kazakhstan

5.07

2

3.5

57

Algeria

4.90

2

3.5

58

Iran

3.60

3

3.3

59

Nigeria

4.54

2

3.3

60

Iraq

2.07

2

2.0

* From EIU Country Forecast, score out of 10: more than 8 = very good; 6.5-8 = good; 5.5-6.4 = moderate; 5-5.4 = poor; less than 5 = very poor.

THE E-READINESS ATTRIBUTES

No nation will become "E-Ready" overnight; and nations that are today's e-leaders are not guaranteed to be tomorrow's. However, due to the nature of the new economy, those nations and businesses that can adapt quickly to new technology, seize new opportunities, and take strategic risks will prosper. Less prepared economies have an opportunity to learn from the global community and leap to higher levels of preparedness. There is no one-size-fits all prescription for e-Readiness. No checklist of actions will guarantee that a nation will be a global e-player. There are, however, common trends, policies, and procedures that have proven to help quickly propel some nations toward e-Readiness such as given below:

Connectivity - Are networks easy and affordable to access and to use?

Availability of wire line and wireless communication services, community access centers (free and paid), and networked computers in businesses, schools, and homes.

Affordability and reliability of network access, including the cost of service, downtime, and the prevalence of sharing access among individuals.

Reliability of electrical supply for business-critical computer operations; and the ease of importing and exporting goods and of transporting them within a country.

E-Leadership - Is E-Readiness a national priority?

Priority given by government to promoting the development of an e-society on a national level. Extent of demonstrated progress on e-government, including efforts to automate governmental processes.

Quality of partnerships between industry leaders and government to improve E-Readiness.

Level of effort to promote access for all citizens.

Information Security - Can the processing and storage of networked information be trusted?

Strength of legal protections and progress in protecting intellectual property rights, especially software.

Extent of efforts to protect privacy.

Strength and effectiveness of the legal framework to address and prosecute computer crimes, authorize digital signatures, and enable public key infrastructures.

Human Capital - Are the right people available to support e-business and to build a knowledge-based society?

Quality of and participation levels in the education system, with an emphasis on efforts to create and support a knowledge-based society.

Culture of local creativity and information sharing within the society.

Skills and efficiency of the workforce.

E-Business Climate - How easy is it to do e-business today?

Existence of effective competition among communication and information services providers.

Transparency and predictability of regulatory implementation, openness of government, rule of law, and general business risk (political stability, financial soundness).

Openness to financial and personal participation by foreign investors in ICT businesses.

Ability of the financial system to support electronic transactions.

(Source: Markel Foundation)

The ratings are by nature general, not definitive. They provide an initial basis for understanding what is in each case a complex situation. In order to make sound business or policy decisions, companies and countries must focus on the many underlying details that, when considered together, produce the conditions described by these ratings.

CONCLUSIONS: CREATING A DEVELOPMENT DYNAMIC

The unique characteristics inherent in ICT and the evidence from both micro-level initiatives and national ICT approaches suggest that a development-focused ICT strategy that leverages the powerful synergies of ICT as an enabler of social and economic development can lead to the creation of a development dynamic. The lessons learned point to five important interrelated areas for strategic intervention: policy, infrastructure, enterprise, human capacity, and content and applications.

Digital divide is an issue of time which can become a digital provide through adopting the digital opportunity initiatives in a development dynamic. Same is true for Pakistan as a developing country. The focus should be bringing all sectors into harmony and adopting the strategic compact of the development dynamic as shown in Figure E. (FOR FIGURES PLEASE REFER TO OUR PRINTED MAGAZINE).