12 September 2012
South Africa places 36th out of 61 countries in the inaugural Web Index, a new global survey of the impact of the internet on the countries and citizens of the world.
The results of the survey, conducted by the World Wide Web Foundation and led by Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, were announced at an event in London last week.
The most comprehensive assessment to date of the impact of the internet worldwide, incorporating indicators that assess countries on the political, economic and social impact of the web, as well as indicators of web connectivity infrastructure and use.
According to the study, Sweden is best in the world at putting the internet to work, beating the US and UK for the top spot, with Canada and Finland completing the top five.
South Africa, in 36th place, is the second-highest ranking African country behind Tunisia (30), followed by Egypt (39), Mauritius (41), Kenya (42), Ghana (45), Senegal (46) and Nigeria (48).
South Africa’s indicators
South Africa ranked 27th overall for the social impact of the internet in the country (its affect on health, education and social activities), and 31st for economic impact of the internet (its affect on business and the economy)
The country ranked 33rd for its web content, or the extent to which it makes relevant and useful content available on internet.
For both institutional infrastructure (education, laws, regulation and censorship enabling internet access) and communications infrastructure (the state and availability of physical and communications infrastructure enabling access to the web), South Africa ranked 35th.
However, the country ranked only 45th for the extent of internet use in the country.
‘A largely untapped resource’
According to the study, the internet remains a largely untapped resource in much of the world, with only one in three people using it globally and fewer than one in six in Africa.
The survey cautions that high broadband prices and trends toward censorship are major barriers to making the web useful to all, with almost one-third of the countries surveyed facing moderate to severe government restrictions on access to websites, and about half of them facing increasing threats to press freedom.
“The web is a global conversation,” Berners-Lee said at the launch of the index. “Growing suppression of free speech, both online and offline, is possibly the single biggest challenge to the future of the web.”
‘A luxury good in most countries’
Internet access remains a luxury good in most countries, the Web Foundation said, with broadband connections still costing almost half of monthly income per capita across the 61 countries surveyed.
“The high price of connectivity is stopping billions of people from achieving their rights to knowledge and participation. Costs have got to come down dramatically,” said Berners-Lee.
The survey also finds that the growth of successful web-based businesses remains “surprisingly poor” outside of the developed countries, “showing that the web’s economic potential is also going untapped in many countries”.
Positive findings from the index include the spread of e-governance, in the form of government data and services being made available to citizens online, as well as initiatives to encourage online participation in decision-making.
“Middle income countries are improving their e-governance capacities faster than the West, with Korea, Singapore and Colombia among the world’s top innovators in this sphere,” the Web Foundation said.