An Internet Diffusion Study

Larry Press, Grey Burkhart, Will Foster, Sy Goodman, Alex Tan, and Jon Woodard
OnTheInternet, in press.

Over the years, humans 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 investors, policy makers and curious romantics are interested in tracking its global diffusion.

Many organizations and projects are tracking Internet diffusion (several are surveyed in [2]). Each strikes a balance between full, global coverage with relatively little depth and in-depth study of a smaller portion of the Net. For example, Network Wizards,, counts the number of IP hosts in each domain every 6 months. They produce a very concise representation of the Internet in each nation -- the estimated number of hosts. This work may be contrasted with that of Chris Demchak and her colleagues who have done an in-depth survey on the utilization of Web servers by national governments, They have compiled detailed information on a focused aspect of the Internet.

We have devised a framework for tracking the global diffusion of the Internet that lies between these extremes. We hope to be global in scope, yet gather more information than a project like that of Network Wizards. We focus on the nation as a 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

pervasiveness: a measure based on users per capita and the degree to which non-technicians are using the Internet.

geographic dispersion: a measure of the concentration of the Internet within a nation, from none or a single city to nationwide availability.

sectoral absorption: a measure of the degree of utilization of the Internet in the education, commercial, health care and public sectors.

connectivity infrastructure: a measure based on international and intranational backbone bandwidth, exchange points, and last-mile access methods.

organizational infrastructure: a measure based on the state of the ISP industry and market conditions.

sophistication of use: a measure characterizing usage from conventional to highly sophisticated and driving innovation.

Each dimension has five ordinal values from zero (non-existent) to four (highly developed), allowing us to make simple graphs showing values changing over time within a nation or comparing several nations. For example, see Figure 1 showing the progression of the Internet through time in Finland and Figure 2 showing its current state in eight Persian Gulf nations.

In addition to these six dimensions, our framework includes an open-ended list of factors which influence the development of the Internet in a nation. One view of these determinants is presented in [1], which organizes them into government policies and non-governmental determinants of Internet success, as shown in Table 1.

Our framework focuses on the nation as the unit of analysis, but an understanding of the global diffusion of the Internet also requires attention to multinational issues and organizations. These include the role of multinational corporations (cable and satellite providers, telecommunication companies, IP, connectivity and content providers), organizations for the regional and global governance of the Internet, the gap between have and have-not nations, electronic and optronic technology change, and non-Internet networks such as those used in currency trading, banking, international EDI, and by large corporations. (The latter may move to the Internet when performance and security requirements are satisfied).

To date, we have defined this framework and applied it to 13 nations (Bosnia and Herzegovina, The People's Republic of China, Cuba, Finland, and the Persian Gulf region). A detailed description of the framework and in-depth studies of the Internet in these nations is found in [3]. For an example of the format of our typical summary report, see the sidebar on Cuba. It shows the values of the framework dimensions, justification for those values, key determinants of Internet diffusion, and dimension predictions for Cuba. (We plan to create a database of such summaries).

We would like to apply this framework globally. While our initial studies were extensive and go into depth, it is our feeling that a professional familiar with the state of the Internet in his or her nation should be able to rank it along our six dimensions in under an hour, and, if we have chosen our dimension values well, there should be a high degree of consensus among people from a given nation.

For more information on this project, see If you would like to participate through an interview or questionnaire on the state of the Internet in your nation, please contact Larry Press at


Internet Success Determinants

Government Policies

Table 1: Categories of Factors and Policies which Influence Internet Success within a Nation


1. Press, Larry, Notes on A Framework to Characterize the Global Diffusion of the, INFO '97, Havana, October, 1997,

2. Press, Larry, "Tracking the Global Diffusion of the Internet," Communications of the ACM, Vol. 40, No. 11, November, 1997, -- 11-17.

3. MOSAIC Group, The Global Diffusion of the Internet, Project I, presented to sponsors, March, 1998.

4. Wolcott, et al, The Information Technology Capability of Nations: A Framework for Analysis, MOSAIC Group Report (January, 1997), University of Arizona, CIS Department, Tucson, Arizona.

1. These dimensions were derived from [4].

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