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Tuesday, 22 August, 2000, 23:54 GMT 00:54 UK
The losers of the digital divide

Many developing countries could be condemned to economic stagnation because of a lack of investment in high-technology infrastructure.

Among the countries not yet prepared to catch up with the computer revolution are China, Russia, Indonesia, Pakistan and South Africa.

The networked world is under construction but the foundations are still unfinished

Bruce McConnell
The e-readiness report, a survey of 42 countries, was compiled by consulting firm McConnell International together with the World Information Technology and Services Alliance, a global industry association.

After looking at issues like network quality, "e-leadership" and good governance, information security and the quality of the labour force, 23 countries were found to need "substantial improvement" in at least two areas.

Mobile phone user in Cairo
Egyptians are taking to mobile phones, but the economy may not be able to find its place in a high-tech world
The survey puts a question mark over the whole of Africa and much of the Middle East, which are said to lack both the technical infrastructure and the legal framework for the digital economy.

Egyptians, for example, are only allowed since 1998 to have a second telephone line. In Saudi Arabia, on the net since 1994, private citizens were prohibited to go online until January 1999.

The winners

Among the potential winners - with good telecoms infrastructure, skilled workers and computer security laws - are countries like Estonia, Costa Rica, Taiwan and Bulgaria.

In Estonia, Today, 28% of the population is already connected to the internet, while 90% of government employees have a computer at their workplace.

Latin America and Asia, are commended for having governments that are pushing in the right direction. However, both regions are said to lack information-security measures.

Software piracy is rampant and copyright law is rarely enforced.

Digital divide

The report contends that a failure of developing countries to act "would have an impact far beyond their borders".

"Nations and businesses around the world need these markets to prosper", its authors argue..

The company's president, Bruce McConnell, said many countries had "not yet created the conditions that permit full participation in the digital economy".

The report examines 42 countries with three-quarters of the world┐s population and a quarter of the world┐s gross domestic product.

Its findings were based on a mixture of hard data, like the quality of the telephone network, and interviews with government officials and business people.

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Internet 'divides society'
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When the web is not world-wide
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Internet in the Amazon
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