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Estonia: Conditions For E-commerce Best Among Emerging Economies

  • Kevin Foley

A study by a private consulting firm concludes that Estonia and South Korea are farthest along among the emerging nations in integrating the Internet into their societies. Correspondent K.P. Foley looks at the report.

Washington, 8 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A new report by a private consulting firm in Washington says that among the world's emerging economies, Estonia and South Korea have made the most progress in integrating the worldwide computer network known as the Internet into their societies.

The report, entitled "Ready? Net. Go! Partnerships Leading the Global Economy," was prepared by McConnell International. The firm specializes in global technology policy and management issues.

The study covered 53 nations in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. It reviewed what these lower-income countries are doing to close what has come to be called "the digital divide." That term is used to describe the gap between the wealthiest nations and the rest of the world in the access to and use of the Internet for commerce, education, research, and other purposes.

In an RFE/RL interview, company president Bruce McConnell said the aim of the study was to bring business, governments, and non-governmental organizations up to date on how well prepared some nations are to take advantage of the Internet.

"The purpose of it is to shed light on some of the issues that face countries around the world in terms of participating in the digital economy."

McConnell's company undertook the survey on its own initiative, but the report has been endorsed by both the World Bank and the United Nations Working Group on Informatics.

McConnell said the firm reached its conclusions after it conducted what he called an "E-Readiness Survey."

"E-readiness is a measure of the capacity of a country to participate in the digital economy. So, it's 'how capable is a country to be a player in e-government and e-business?'"

Economies were evaluated according to five attributes:

Connectivity: whether affordable access to reliable networks is available throughout the country.

E-leadership: whether E-readiness is a government priority, and whether partnerships involving government, business, and non-governmental organizations are promoting Internet access for all citizens.

Information security: whether intellectual property rights and privacy are legally protected and whether a legal framework exists to prosecute computer crimes and authorize digital signatures.

Human capital: whether enough people have the right skills to build a knowledge-based society.

E-business climate: whether national policies and financial systems support e-business.

Among the 14 former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union that were included in the survey, Estonia rated highly in three of the five categories -- leadership, human capital, and business climate.

The survey found that Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia need to make improvements in the conditions necessary to support electronic business and government.

The survey concluded that Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine need to make "substantial improvement" if they are to take full advantage of the economic opportunities offered by the Internet.

The report said all 53 countries surveyed "are positioned to have a profound impact on the new global economy." Together, the report said, the 53 represent more than two-thirds of the world's population and the greatest potential markets.

McConnell said that among the five attributes used to measure each country, "connectivity is probably the biggest challenge, especially in large countries." Connectivity includes such things as the availability of wireless and wired communication centers and access to computer networks in enterprises and homes.

"If you look at a country like India, for example, as opposed to a small country like Estonia, the challenge of getting people wired up is much greater in a larger country. They have long distances to cover and it's very expensive."

While the report was not intended to serve as a human rights document, McConnell said it is in the best interests of governments to refrain from, or abandon, efforts to control access to the Internet or restrict the types of information made available.

"Basically, our view is that this is a losing battle, for two reasons: first, people who really want the information can find ways around the government controls pretty easily, so it's a temporary thing in the first place for governments to be able to filter out content; and second, it really misses the point because the whole point of the Internet is to promote information-sharing and increase participation both in terms of participation in the economy but also transparency in government."

McConnell said nations that attempt to control the Internet "really risk being left behind in the economic race that's going on in the globalization environment."

(See the report at