Canada has again failed to crack the top 10 list of nations in the International Telecommunication Union’s annual telecom survey, but at least it does have one of the least expensive communications systems in the world.
The survey has two ways of rating countries. On what the ITU calls its information and communication development index, in 2008 Canada ranked 21st out of 159 countries with a score of 6.45. The U.S. ranked 18th. The top country was Sweden, with a score of 7.85. By comparison, in 2007 Canada ranked 18th and the U.S. was 17th.
The score uses a formula based 11 factors ranging from the number of fixed telephone lines and wireless subscribers to the adult literacy rate.
The top 10 countries in 2008 were (in order) Sweden, Luxembourg, South Korea, Denmark, the Netherlands, Iceland, Switzerland, Japan, Norway and the United Kingdom.
On the other hand, Canada tied for 8th place in 2009 in what the ITU calls its Price Basket for wired and wireless telecom services. The basket sums the prices for fixed telephone, mobile cellular and fixed broadband services and expresses it as a per cent of gross national income per person. Last year Canada scored 0.58, while in 2008 Canada’s score was 0.73.
On this list the lower the number the better. At the top in 2009 was Macao, an administrative region of China, with a score of 0.23. After that came Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuwait. The U.S. tied for fifth with Luxembourg with a score of 0.40.
Globally, the price of broadband dropped 42 per cent between 2008 and 2009, the ITU study said, while the price for mobile cellular dropped 25 per cent and fixed telephone services 20 per cent.
One key finding in the report is that the digital divide continues between rich and poor nations: Those who can least afford access to broadband pay the most.
Mark Goldberg, a Thornhill, Ont.-based telecommunications analyst, warned that the ITU numbers have to be read carefully. Because some countries collect data differently than others, the report cautions that comparisons between some countries are difficult.
The 124-page report is thick with charts, graphs and that subdivide data in many ways, inviting interpretation.
For example, the price basket breaks down the ranking into several categories. In 2009 Canada’s fixed telephone score was 0.53, almost half of what it was in 2008. That suggests prices dropped considerably last year, perhaps due to competition from voice over IP providers. On the other hand, the mobile cellular score in 2009 dropped 13 per cent to 0.51 from 0.58 in 2008. By comparison, wireless prices plunged 71 per cent in Hong Kong, 24 per cent in the U.S. and 21 per cent in Norway. Or, consider this: Canada’s fixed broadband score actually rose in 2009 to 0.71 from 0.60 the year before.
The report is full of good and bad news for the nations studied.
Despite the recession, the use of information and communication technology continued to grow around the world, it says. The report citied the progress made in 2008 over the year before by Bahrain, Cape Verde, Greece, Macedonia, Nigeria, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Viet Nam.
By the end of 2009, there were an estimated 4.6 billion mobile cellular subscriptions around the world, which works out to 67 per 100 people.
Last year mobile cellular penetration in developing countries passed the 50 per cent mark, reaching an estimated 57 per 100 persons. That’s well below the average in developed countries, where penetration exceeds 100 per cent. Still, the report says the rate of progress “remains remarkable. Indeed, mobile cellular penetration in developing countries has more than doubled since 2005, when it stood at only 23 per cent.”
Internet use has also continued to expand, albeit at a slower pace. In 2009, an estimated 26 per cent of the world’s population (or 1.7 billion people) were using the Internet.
But in developed countries the percentage remains much higher than in the developing world where four out of five people are still excluded from the benefits of being online. China alone accounted for one-third of Internet users in the developing world.
Internet penetration in developing countries reached only 18 per cent last year – only 14 per cent if China isn’t included. By comparison Internet penetration in developed countries reached 64 per cent at the end of 2009.
In Africa, only the Seychelles, Mauritius and South Africa were in the global top 100 countries in the development index.
Those who can least afford access to broadband continue to pay the most, the report said. For example, a fixed broadband subscription costs under US$10 a month in Macao and Israel. But in over 20 economies worldwide – most of them United Nations-designated Least Developed Countries – it costs over US$100 a month.
Broadband subscriptions cost less than one per cent of average monthly income in the 21 countries with most affordable broadband measured by ITU. In the 28 countries with least affordable broadband in ITU’s list, a monthly broadband subscription costs over 100 per cent of average monthly income.
One challenge developing nations face is the limited availability of fixed broadband in terms of phone lines and cable, the report says. However, wireless broadband –which is less expensive to spread across a country compared to wires – is increasingly being used in these countries and is expected to increase the number of Internet users.
The ITU is a United Nations agency that co-ordinates the use of global radio spectrum and establishes standards for communications system connectivity. It hopes governments will use the report to identify areas in their telecom policies that need attention.