An Internet Diffusion Framework

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 41, No. 10, pp 21-26, October, 1998.
Larry Press, Grey Burkhart, Will Foster, Seymour Goodman, Peter Wolcott, and Jon Woodard


Over the years, we covered the globe with cities then linked them with railroads, highways, telephone lines, power grids, canals, and so forth. We are now deploying the Internet, and several organizations and projects are tracking this global diffusion [6]. This article describes one such project, the Mosaic Group (http://www.agsd.com/mosaicgroup.html) study of the global diffusion of the Internet.

The global diffusion of the Internet is of interest to infrastructure planners and policy makers. As Ithiel de Sola Pool pointed out, telecommunication infrastructure planning is implicit social planning. Policy makers may see the Internet as an opportunity, a threat, or both, but none can ignore it infrastructure and society are inextricably interdependent. While this is the case for all nations, we are particularly motivated by the hypothesis that a relatively small networking investment may have a significant impact in developing nations (Press [2]). Although support for policy makers is the primary motivation for our work, we must also confess to a degree of unabashed curiosity in tracking the spread of the Internet around the world.

In tracking the diffusion of the Internet, one must choose a balance between breadth and depth. One of the first to chronicle of Internet diffusion was Larry Landweber, who simply noted whether or not a nation had an international IP link. He produced well known maps between 1991 and 1997, graphically showing the Net's progress (see Figure 1). Keeping track of only one variable allowed Landweber to maintain a global perspective at a reasonable cost. Network Wizards, http://www.nw.com, also produces a very concise representation of the Internet, automatically counting the number of hosts in each top-level domain every 6 months.

Others compile in-depth information on a limited geographic area. For example, Boardwatch Magazine, http://www.boardwatch.com, concentrates on the United States, using interviews, questionnaires, and automated techniques to compile data on every ISP and each IP backbone network. The result is a 560-page directory which requires a professional staff. Unlike Boardwatch, Chris Demchack and her colleagues at the University of Arizona maintain a global perspective, but focus on one aspect of the Internet -- government Web sites. They have compiled data on the Web sites of national agencies in nearly every nation of the world. Figure 2 shows the average openness of agency Web sites in each nation. Openness is the sum of transparency and accessibility, where transparency is a measure of the amount of data an agency makes available through its Web site and accessibility measures how easy it is for visitors to use the information on the Web site, give feedback to the agency, contact agency officials, and so forth. (For details on the coding scheme and project, see http://w3.arizona.edu/~cyprg/).

We seek a middle ground. Our goal is global coverage, considering a variety of characteristics of Internet diffusion at a reasonable cost. We focus on the nation as our unit of analysis, and characterize the state of the Internet along six dimensions: pervasiveness, geographic dispersion, sectoral absorption, connectivity infrastructure, organizational infrastructure, and sophistication of use.1 In addition to these dimensions, our framework includes an open-ended list of determinants -- factors which influence the development of the Internet, i. e., the values of the dimensions in a nation.

The Framework

Each dimension has five ordinal values ranging from zero (non-existent) to four (highly developed). Table 1 shows the definition of the levels of the first dimension, pervasiveness. As you see, pervasiveness is based on factors like users per capita and the degree to which non-technicians are using the Internet. Note that the explanations of the values are somewhat subjective and imprecise. For example, we do not try to pin down the exact number of users per capita, which would be impractical, but are satisfied with a rough, order-of-magnitude estimate. Our goal is categories which accommodate a wide range of nations, and yield a high degree of consensus among Internet experts from a nation.

Over 200 nations now have IP connectivity, but in many of these, access is restricted to one or two large cities. As such, we selected geographic dispersion as our second variable. This dimension measures the concentration of the Internet within a nation, from none or a single city to nationwide availability with points-of-presence or toll free access in all first-tier political subdivisions and common rural access.

While widespread access is desirable, the payoff is in who uses the Internet in a nation. This is accounted for in our sectoral absorption dimension, a measure of the degree of Internet utilization in the education, commercial, health care, and public sectors. These sectors are seen as key to development, and were suggested by the measures used by the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index [7].

Connectivity infrastructure is our fourth variable. It a measure based on international and intranational backbone bandwidth, exchange points, and last-mile access methods. A highly rated nation will have high speed intranational and international backbone connectivity, public and bilateral exchange points, and a high proportion of homes with last-mile access using CATV, xDSL, or some other technology that is faster than analog modems.

Organizational infrastructure is a measure based on state of the ISP industry and market conditions. A highly rated nation would have many ISPs and a high degree of openness and competition in both the ISP and telecommunication industries. It would also have collaborative organizations and arrangements like public exchanges, ISP industry associations, and emergency response teams.

Our final variable is sophistication of use, a measure characterizing usage from conventional to highly sophisticated and driving innovation. A relatively conventional nation would be using the Internet as a straight forward substitute for other communication media like telephone and FAX, whereas in a more advanced nation, applications may result in significant changes in existing processes and practices and may even drive the invention of new technology.

In addition to these six dimensions, our framework considers determinants of Internet diffusion. One view of these determinants is presented in [4], which organizes them into government policies and non-governmental determinants of Internet success, as shown in Table 2. The Internet does well in nations with robust, competitive telecommunication and computer industries, ample financial and human resources and an interested, supportive government [1].

One often hears that the Internet will erode the power of national governments through borderless commerce, entertainment and news. However, we have found governments still play a major role in determining Internet diffusion. One government may encourage the Internet, if swayed by its potential economic and educational opportunities, and another may discourage it because of threats to the political stability of the regime or to the culture. Figure 3 depicts an ordering of several nations on their apparent sensitivity to Internet risks and opportunities as estimated by the MOSAIC Group. As you see, the Finnish government has opted for policies which encourage Internet diffusion while Iraq has judged it too hot to handle.

Our framework focuses on the nation as the unit of analysis, but an understanding of the global diffusion of the Internet requires attention to multinational issues and organizations as well. These include the role of multinational corporations (cable and satellite providers, telecommunication companies, ISPs, and content providers), organizations for the regional and global governance of the Internet, technological improvements, and non-Internet, regional or global networks such as those used in currency trading, banking, international EDI, and by large corporations. (These may move to the Internet when performance and security requirements are satisfied).

Results

Table 3 shows the dimension scores for several nations. In addition to showing dimension values, our reporting format gives brief explanations for the scores, predictions of the scores for the coming year, and a table showing the relationship between the dimension values and key determinants. Table 4 and Table 5 illustrate these for the case of Cuba, and Figure 4 and Figure 5 illustrate a graphical representation of changes over time (in Finland) and of multiple nations (in the Persian Gulf).

Some of the results in Table 3 were generated during in-depth country studies conducted by the Mosaic Group. These studies are reported in [6], and they require considerable expense -- between one and ten person-weeks visiting the nation and several months of traditional research and writing. While these in-depth studies have value beyond our framework, they are too expensive if we hope to cover all nations on a regular basis.

Another approach is to rely on the opinion of informed Internet observers and participants within each nation. The non-Mosaic results in Table 3 were derived from a questionnaire which took respondents less than one hour to complete. If we have chosen our dimension values well, we would expect two experts from the same nation to arrive at the same values. To the extent that two differ, it should be fairly simple to resolve the disagreement by asking what assumptions they were making about the definitions of the values and the actual situation in the nation. As such, this approach has the possibility of scaling up, and we would like to apply our framework globally. If you are familiar with the state of the Internet in your nation, and would be willing to complete our questionnaire, please visit http://som.csudh.edu/fac/lpress/gdiff/ where you will find a questionnaire.

Footnote

1. These dimensions were modeled on [8] with input from [3].

References

  1. Press, L., "Developing Networks in Less Industrialized Nations," IEEE Computer, vol 28, No 6, June, 1995, pp 66-71. http://som.csudh.edu/faculty/cis/lpress/ieee.htm.
  2. Press, L., "The Role of Computer Networks in Development," Communications of the ACM, Vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 23-30, February, 1996, http://som.csudh.edu/fac/lpress/devwins.htm.
  3. Press, L. and Rodriguez, L., "Toward an Internet Census for Developing Nations," Proceedings of INET '96, Montreal, June, 1996, http://som.csudh.edu/fac/lpress/devnat/general/conluis.htm
  4. Press, Larry, Notes on A Framework to Characterize the Global Diffusion of the, INFO '97, Havana, October, 1997, http://som.csudh.edu/fac/lpress/articles/fmwkpres.htm.
  5. Press, Larry, "Tracking the Global Diffusion of the Internet," Communications of the ACM, Vol. 40, No. 11, November, 1997, pp 11-17, http://som.csudh.edu/fac/lpress/articles/worldacm.htm.
  6. MOSAIC Group, The Global Diffusion of the Internet, Project I, Arlington, VA, March, 1998, http://www.agsd.com/gdi97/gdi97.html.
  7. United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report, 1997, Oxford University Press, New York, 1997.
  8. Wolcott, et al, The Information Technology Capability of Nations: A Framework for Analysis, MOSAIC Group Report (January, 1997), University of Arizona, MIS Department, Tucson, Arizona.

Tables

Table 1: The five levels of the pervasiveness dimension.

Level 0

Non-existent

The Internet does not exist in a viable form in this country. No computers with international IP connections are located within the country. There may be some Internet users in the country; however, they obtain a connection via an international telephone call to a foreign ISP.

Level 1

Experimental

The ratio of users per capita is on the order of magnitude of less than one in a thousand. There is limited availability, and use of the Internet is embryonic. Only one or a few networks are connected to the international IP network. The user community comprises principally networking technicians.

Level 2

Established

The ratio of Internet users per capita is on the order of magnitude of at least one in a thousand. The user community has been expanded beyond networking technicians.

Level 3

Common

The ratio of Internet users per capita is on the order of magnitude of at least one in a hundred. The infrastructure of supporting and related goods and services has become well-established, although is not necessarily extensive.

Level 4

Pervasive

The Internet is pervasive. The ratio of Internet users per capita is on the order of magnitude of at least one in ten. Internet access is available as a commodity service.

 

Table 2: Factors and policies influencing Internet success within a nation.

Internet Success Determinants

Government Policies

 

Table 3: Internet-diffusion ratings

 

Nation

P

GD

SA

CI

OI

SU

Rating Date

Evaluator

Armenia

2

2

2

1

2

2

Sep-98

Tigran Nazarian

Bahrain

2

1

2

1

1

2

Mar-98

MOSAIC Group

Bangladesh

1

1

1

1

2

2

Jul-98

MOSAIC Group

Benin

1

1

1

1

2

1

Sep-98

Ken Lohento

Bosnia

1

1

1

1

2

1

Mar-98

MOSAIC Group

Burkina Faso

1

2

1

2

2

1

Sep-98

Kiswendsida Kisito Kabore

Cameroon

1

1

1

1

2

2

Sep-98

Derek Ajesam Asoh

Chile

3

2

2

2

3

2

Aug-98

Claudio Araya

Cuba

1

1

1

1

2

1

Mar-98

MOSAIC Group

Cuba

1

2

1

1

2

2

Aug-98

Marta Ruiz

Czech Republic

3

3

2

3

3

2

May-98

Ryan McCulley, Mike Leinen

Democratic Rep. of the Congo

1

1

1

1

1

1

Sep-98

Eric Nzita

Dominican Republic

2

3

1

1

3

2

Jul-98

Daniel Pimenta

Finland

4

3

3

3

4

4

Mar-98

MOSAIC Group

Guinea

1

2

1

1

3

1

Sep-98

Hadja Binta Keita

Guyana

2

1

1

1

2

2

Sep-98

Andrew Mancey

India

1

3

1

1

1

2

Sep-98

MOSAIC Group

Iran

1

2

1

1

2

1

Mar-98

MOSAIC Group

Iraq

0

0

0

0

0

0

Mar-98

MOSAIC Group

Kuwait

3

1

2

2

1

2

Mar-98

MOSAIC Group

Mauritius

1

1

2

1

1

2

Sep-98

Yann Kwok

Oman

3

1

2

1

1

2

Mar-98

MOSAIC Group

Pakistan

1

3

1

1

2

1

Sep-98

Fasih Ahmed Masood Sindhu

Pakistan

1

3

1

1

2

1

Sep-98

Naseem A. Bhatti

People's Republic of China

2

3

2

2

2

2

Sep-98

MOSAIC Group

Peru

2

4

3

1

2

3

Jul-98

Jose Soriano

Qatar

3

1

1

1

1

2

Mar-98

MOSAIC Group

Saudi Arabia

1

1

1

1

1

1

Mar-98

MOSAIC Group

Slovak Republic

3

3

2

2

3

2

May-98

Ryan McCulley, Mike Leinen

Solomon Islands

1

1

1

1

1

2

Sep-98

Samuelu Taufao

Sri Lanka

1

2

2

1

3

3

Sep-98

Priyantha Pushpa Kumara

Tunisia

1

2

2

1

3

3

Sep-98

Lamia Chaffai Sghaier

United Arab Emirates

4

3

2

1

1

2

Mar-98

MOSAIC Group

Uganda

1

1

1

1

-

2

Sep-98

Michael Sserunjoji

Uganda

1

1

1

1

-

2

Sep-98

Dorothy Okello

Uruguay

3

3

3

2

2

3

Jul-98

Ida Holz

Venezuela

2

3

1

1

3

2

May-98

Luis German Rodriguez

Yemen

1

1

1

1

1

1

Mar-98

MOSAIC Group

Zimbabwe

2

3

3

1

3

2

Sep-98

Joyce Chidora

 

Table 4: The relationship between key determinants and the dimensions they affect, Cuba, 1998.

Determining Factor

Dimensions most directly affected

   

Poor telephone infrastructure

Pervasiveness, geographic dispersion, connectivity infrastructure, and sophistication of use are all inhibited due to the difficulty in connecting end users and networks.

Difficulty attracting capital

Connectivity infrastructure cannot be improved without capital.

Cultural values stressing health, education and equality

Health and educational sectoral absorption is emphasized as is geographic dispersion outside the capital.

Centralized planning

Pervasiveness is reduced by planning delays, and the Inter-ministerial Commission was formulated) is an element of increased organizational infrastructure.

Concern for national security given US hostility

Pervasiveness is reduced by access restriction.

Protection of embargoed business activity

Pervasiveness is reduced by content restriction.

Propaganda to and from US

Pervasiveness is reduced by content and access restriction.

Fear of use by subversive organizations

Pervasiveness is reduced by access restriction.

Non-commercial economy

Commercial sectoral absorption is inhibited as resources are shifted elsewhere.

Populist history

In seeking to server rural areas and small towns, geographic dispersion is increased and connectivity infrastructure extended outside the capital.

Emphasis on human capital

Education sector absorption is increased.

 

Table 5: Explanations of dimension values, Cuba, 1998.

Pervasiveness: Cuban IP connectivity is minimal, with perhaps as few as 100 users. Even if we were to include UUCP email accounts, there are less than 1/1,000 population, therefore Cuba is at the experimental level. However, it is noteworthy that email use extends well beyond the network technician community.

Geographic Dispersion: The only IP point of presence offering network connectivity in Cuba is at CENIAI in Havana. If; however, we were to consider email connectivity, we would find access in every province and nearly every municipality. So, while Cuba must be rated at the single location level because of limited IP, they are clearly interested in geographic dispersion.

Sectoral Absorption: IP connectivity is rare in the health and government sectors, and nonexistent in education and commerce, giving Cuba a rare overall ranking. On the other hand, UUCP-based email is used in the health sector throughout the nation, more than 10% of the ministries have email accounts, and the YCCs (education sector) are nationwide.

Connectivity Infrastructure: While Cuba has an international IP link, they have no domestic backbone and barely any leased line access, placing them at the low end of level 1 on this dimension. They are severely hampered here by poor telephone infrastructure and their historical concentration on X.25.

Organizational Infrastructure: While not independent businesses, CENIAI and Teledatos are both in the business of providing connectivity to organizations with networks, and there is some degree of competition between them (either by design or historical development). There is also a degree of coordination provided by the Inter-ministerial Commission for Networking. On this basis, we can rank Cuba at the controlled level.

Sophistication of Use: As there is little IP connectivity, Cuba must be ranked at the minimal level here; however, email and information retrieval from email-driven servers have reached the conventional level in the health care and biotechnology communities.