The digital divide is narrowing as citizens in emerging markets get online via computers and mobile phones, with some regions now on a par with developed nations, a ranking of web-savvy nations shows today.
"Encouraging is the apparent narrowing of the digital divide," said the annual study published by U.S. computer company International Business Machines Corp. and the intelligence unit of The Economist.
"This is particularly evident in basic connectivity: emerging markets are providing the vast majority of the world's new phone and Internet connections," the study found.
Within China and India, regions such as Shanghai and Bangalore have almost the same level of Internet and mobile phone connections as developed nations, said Peter Korsten, European director at IBM's Institute for Business Value.
"This is the first time we see a level playing field between developed and developing nations in terms of connectivity. It's up to governments to take advantage with education and other initiatives," he said.
The survey looks beyond basic connections and also studies how the Internet is being used to improve productivity and reduce costs, including online access to public services.
"Virtually all countries have improved their scores over the past year. The improvement is greater in the lower tiers of the rankings than at the top. As a result, the distance separating the best from the rest has declined," the study said.
The difference between the world's web-savviest nation Denmark and the least "e-ready" country Azerbaijan remains nevertheless huge, with respective scores of 9.0 and 2.9 out of a possible 10.
India and China, including their less developed provinces, scored 4.25 and 4.02, ranking No. 53 and 57 respectively.
Switzerland entered the top three, replacing Sweden which dropped to fourth place, while the United States held on to its No. 2 spot.
Denmark remained No. 1 in taking advantage of the Internet, both connecting citizens securely over broadband and wireless networks as well as using its near ubiquitous hook-ups for Internet banking and government services such as tax returns.
"E-procurement (for public services) is saving Danish businesses 50 million euros (35 million pounds) and taxpayers as much as 150 million euros per year. The rest of Europe is expected to follow Denmark's lead," the study said.
Six nations in the top 10 are European, taking advantage of cheaply available broadband offerings and good education. The U.S., Australia, Canada and Hong Kong complete the top 10.
In central and eastern Europe, the new European Union member states formed an upper tier while other nations lag far behind. Mobile phone penetration is ubiquitous, but fixed line Internet connections are not widely available, while the business and legal environment is weak.
Overall, the region remains well behind the EU, North America and developed markets in Asia Pacific.
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