Arab States show highest improvement in internet use index: ITU
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By YASMINE SAMRA

CAIRO: “Arab States showed the highest improvement in regional ICT Development Index (IDI) averages over the past 12 months,” the International Telecommunication Union announced in its Measuring the Information Society 2014 Report.

More than 3 billion people use the internet and information and communication technology (ICT) growth remains buoyant in just about every country worldwide, according to the report launched at a press conference held in Cairo yesterday.

Internet use grew “steadily” by 6.6 percent globally in 2014; recording 3.3 percent in developed countries compared to 8.7 percent in the developing world where the number of internet users doubled from 2009-2014. Two thirds of all people online now live in the developing world, according to a presentation offered at the conference.

“In the Middle East region, oil-rich Gulf states topped the index, with Bahrain exceeding the global average in 2013,” Karim Abdelghani, ITU’s Program Coordinator in Cairo told The Cairo Post in an interview on the sidelines of the press conference.

Denmark, followed by the Republic of Korea topped the ITU’s ICT Development Index (IDI) among 166 countries according to their level of ICT access, use and skills.

Countries from Europe and high-income nations from other regions including Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Japan, Macao (China), New Zealand, Singapore and the United States occupied the top 30 ranks.

Europe’s average IDI value of 7.14 remains well ahead of the next best-performing region, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS – 5.33,) followed by the Americas (4.86,) Asia and the Pacific (4.57,) the Arab States (4.55,) and Africa at 2.31,  according to the report.

“Creating a proper legislative environment and regulatory measures would enable Arab countries to improve the quality of communication and internet services provided to their people,” Abdelghani said.

“Investment in infrastructure is required to widen the bandwidth and consequently provide better services,” Abdelghani added, reiterating the need to issue legislation to lure investments.

The ITU official noted that education should be a priority in Arab government’s ICT development strategies in the coming period. “A lot of initiatives have been launched to bolster education through CIT, but most of them are suspended.”

Abdelghani said the UAE’s Smart Learning Program Initiative is achieving “steady progress” toward 2020 targets. In 2012, the initiative was launched by Sheikh Mohammed, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, where school textbooks are targeted to be completely replaced by tablet computers by 2017.

The report states that 90 percent of the 4.3 billion people not yet using the internet are living in developing countries. “In the world’s 42 Least Connected Countries (LCCs), which are home to 2.5 billion people, access to ICTs remains largely out of reach, particularly for these countries’ large rural populations,” according to the report.

“ICTs have the potential to make the world a much better place, namely for the poorest and the most disenfranchised, including women, youth, and those with disabilities,” said ITU’s Abdelghani at the presentation he offered during the conference.

The report estimated that mobile subscriptions may reach 7 billion by the end of 2014, but it warned against concluding that everyone is connected. “Instead, many users have multiple subscriptions… An estimated 450 million people worldwide live in places which are still out of reach of mobile cellular service.”

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