Caribbean Nations Jump in Global ICT Report, Better Access to Affordable Internet Needed

GENEVA – Several Caribbean nations have jumped in the rankings of the Global Information Technology Report 2015 but not all of them are heading in the right direction.

Barbados remained the regional leader advancing from 55 last year to 39. Jamaica also moved in the right direction from 86 to 82, Trinidad 71 to 70 and Haiti did as well from 143 in 2014 to 137 this year. However, Puerto Rico dropped from 41 to 44, Guyana 88 to 93, and the Dominican Republic 93 to 95.

These were the only seven territories in the Caribbean region who were included in the study of 143 economies conducted annually by the World Economic Forum. Experts note that the continued high cost of internet is keeping many nations in digital poverty as they are unable to access the possibilities available to create more thriving economies.

The report, released on April 15, 2015, concludes that the world’s developing and emerging economies are failing to exploit the potential of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to drive social and economic transformation and catch up with more advanced nations.

Data from the report’s Networked Readiness Index (NRI) suggest that the gap between the best and worst performing economies is widening. “Those in the top 10% have seen twice the level of improvement since 2012 as those in the bottom 10%. This demonstrates the scale of the challenge facing developing and emerging nations as they seek to develop the infrastructure, institutions and skills needed to reap the full benefits of ICTs, as only 39% of the global population enjoys access to the internet despite the fact that more than half now owns a mobile phone.”

The 2015 edition of the NRI ranks Singapore as the top country in the world when it comes to leveraging ICTs for social and economic impact. The city state replaces Finland, which had been number one since 2013, and is joined in the top 10 by one other Asian nation, Japan, which climbs an impressive six places year-on-year to 10th position. Occupying the third slot behind Finland is Sweden. The highest-placed G7 economy is the United States (7th), followed by the United Kingdom (8th). Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy, ranks 13th, down one place on last year.

“The report shows that the digital divide across nations is increasing and this is of great concern, given the relentless pace of technological development. Less developed nations risk being left further behind and concrete actions are needed urgently to address this,” said Soumitra Dutta, Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University and co-editor of the report.

“Mobile telephones may be becoming ubiquitous around the world, but the ICT revolution will not be carried over voice or SMS. Without better access to affordable internet, a huge proportion of the global population will continue to live in digital poverty, missing out on the enormous social and economic benefits that the ICTs represent,” said Thierry Geiger, Senior Economist, World Economic Forum and co-editor of the report.

With the report confirming the extremely high correlation between ICT adoption by individuals, businesses and government, and the capacity to generate economic and societal impact, it also notes that government leadership in the creation of a good regulatory and business environment with competitive ICT markets is a fundamental requirement for all countries.

“Broadband is an income multiplier,” says Dr Robert Pepper, Vice President of Global Technology Policy, Cisco. “To ensure that ICT benefits everyone, broadband adoption needs to increase over all, but especially for low income populations. Unconnected countries and people are being left behind.”

But while government action is necessary to address digital divides, efforts must also be made to encourage people to participate in the digital economy, argues Bahjat El-Darwiche, Partner, Strategy, and leader of the firm’s Communications, Media and Technology practice in the Middle East. “Emerging markets need to ensure a sustainable supply of local and relevant digital content if they are to give more people reasons to go online. This requires coordinated action among the major players who have a significant role in the development of the digital ecosystem: governments, brands, operators and content developers. More and better local content will help to provide jobs and higher incomes to millions of people in emerging markets.”

Under the theme ICTs for Inclusive Growth, The Global Information Technology Report 2015 also features 10 essays from leading experts and practitioners that showcase solutions to allow everyone to benefit from and participate in the ICT revolution.