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The story of progress
The huge gaps in ICT development among countries accentuate other existing gaps. To the extent that ICTs represent powerful tools for development, it is of policy interest to know how their diffusion and use is progressing. The data allow us to examine growth within the region, as well as in a comparative sense vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Aggregate growth, as captured by the ICT Opportunity Index, is shown in Figure 3.
Clearly, much of the progress made in recent years worldwide is due to cellphones and the Internet. In the 2001–05 period, cellphones more than doubled and Internet use nearly doubled. The penetration of PCs increased by 60 per cent, while that of TV increased only marginally, which is not surprising given that in most countries TV reached saturation levels some time ago. On the aggregate, penetration of main lines was stagnant. These trends can be seen in the evolution of the global average (Figure 4). Moreover, bandwidth increased and significant progress was made in the deployment of broadband (virtually non-existent in 2001), as the focus has shifted there for value-added applications.
While similar movements to those encountered globally characterize Asia Pacific economies, the interplay between levels and growth of ICTs must always be placed in its proper perspective. As explained in previous studies (Orbicom 2003, 2005), typically developing countries have much higher growth rates than advanced countries. This is largely the result of insignificant initial levels of ICTs and is not necessarily indicative of catching up—and therefore of a closing divide—as the bar is set higher and higher by advanced countries, which also continue to progress.
The gaps among Asia Pacific economies, discussed earlier, are coupled with asymmetries in the progress made. Some countries made significant strides across various ICTs, while progress in other countries was for the most part limited to cellphones. In the ICT Opportunity Index, for instance, we see that the values for Afghanistan, Bhutan and Myanmar increased much more than others, but above-average growth also took place in Australia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, among others. Cambodia and Nepal had growth approaching the average; Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea grew below average; while the smallest aggregate growth in the region was recorded by the Philippines.
Vietnam made significant advances in main lines, contrary to the general stagnation. Sizeable increases in main lines also occurred in China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Myanmar and Pakistan. Cellphones increased everywhere, but growth was more spectacular in some countries. Indonesia's penetration rate for instance jumped from 3.1 per cent to 21.1 per cent between 2001 and 2005, while marked increases were also noted in Laos, India and Pakistan (from around 0.5 per cent to 10.8 per cent, 8.2 per cent and 8.3 per cent, respectively). Cellphones increased the least among countries with very high penetration levels (for example, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Singapore). Vietnam experienced impressive growth in Internet use (from 1.3 per cent to 11.7 per cent), while considerable gains were also made by Pakistan, Mongolia and India. Bangladesh and Mongolia led the growth in PCs, whereas Sri Lanka had a noticeable increase in TV penetration.
The detailed data for 2001 are contained in Annex Table 1 and they can facilitate detailed comparisons with the 2005 data shown in Table 1. What follows are individual country charts, where indicators in index form offer visual comparisons of the evolution between 2001 and 2005,2 as well as benchmarking against the 2005 global average.