New data from World Times and market research firm, IDC, suggests that middle-European countries may miss out on the information economy.
World Times keeps an Information Society Index (ISI), which is a yearly scorecard of how competitive 55 countries are in the emerging information economy, and the initiative is financed partly by the United Nations. The index is based on data from various sources, including Unesco and IDC.
Wilford Welch, publisher of World Times, explained: ?It?s a measure of the capacity of each country to take advantage of the information economy - a more objective, qualitative benchmark of where countries stand?.
But there are four preconditions to taking advantage of this new economy. Countries need a suitable social infrastructure in terms of schooling, press freedom, and civil liberties, and an information infrastructure such as reliable telephone lines and wide ownership of radio and television.
They also require a computer infrastructure with PCs installed in homes, enterprises and government, and an Internet infrastructure.
ISI also takes into account such quantitative measures as the percentage of school-age children who receive secondary schooling, the number of PCs per household and the number of business Internet users. There are 23 measures in total.
On the basis of these measurements, World Times calculates the ratings of 55 countries that together account for 97 per cent of global gross domestic product and 99 per cent of IT expenditure.
The US predictably is the front-runner, heading the index with a score of 4,238. Sweden is a strong second, with 4,084, but all four Scandinavian countries rank in the top six.
The rest of Europe was much less impressive, however. The UK, Belgium and Germany come in at 14, 15 and 16 respectively, while France was ranked 19th.
But, surprisingly, southern European economies were behind most Asian countries, coming in at between 23 and 27 on the scale. Thanks to Singapore?s investments in computer infrastructure, for instance, it jumped to 4th place from 11th a year ago.
However, the 1999 index is based on data for 1997 - when the most complete information was available - so this means the Asian crisis has not been taken into consideration.
But Welch believes that small, relatively isolated countries such as Singapore and Israel, which held 17th position, stand to gain immensely from the information economy.
Countries with large populations, on the other hand, are at a huge disadvantage, with India, China and Pakistan bottom of the list.
Up till 2002, he expects the US to increase its lead in the table, but reckons that while Japan and the rest of Asia will see a temporary slow-down, they will soon return to strong growth because their readiness to embrace the information society is likely to jumpstart their economies.
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