Ireland has ranked outside the top 30 for digital opportunity in a new index formulated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The Digital Opportunity Index (DOI) measures digital opportunity and uptake of ICT in 180 economies using a number of factors, including mobile, fixed-line and internet penetration, tariffs and rate of use.
Ireland ranked 31st overall. Korea topped the index with a score of 0.79, and was joined in the top five by Japan, Denmark, Iceland and Hong Kong. Ireland scored 0.58 on the index, behind countries such as Estonia and Slovenia, which ranked 20th and 22nd respectively.
The index rated countries under the headings Opportunity, Infrastructure and Utilisation and then aggregated a score. The Opportunity heading comprised mobile coverage, internet access tariffs and mobile access tariffs; Infrastructure featured information on fixed lines, computers, internet access, mobile cellular subscriptions and mobile internet; Utilisation featured proportion of internet users, ratio of fixed broadband users and ratio of mobile broadband users.
Ireland’s poor performance in the index cannot be put down simply to our below average broadband uptake and PC penetration rates, according to IrelandOffline spokesperson Damien Mulley. “We could excuse it if it was just based on broadband or pricing,” he said, indicating that these problems could be addressed more quickly than underlying problems with research and development (R&D) and technology education.
He pointed to the fact that while Ireland has large multinational technology companies and a very educated workforce, we lag behind when it comes to home-grown companies engaging in R&D, a fact highlighted by recent OECD reports.
Mulley said the fact that Asian countries had scored highly in the DOI was a worrying trend for the Irish technology sector. “The report showed that a lot of Asian countries’ DOI is gaining the most which is a worrying trend as there is a lot of jobs being outsourced to these economies at the moment. A lot of high-tech jobs could go over there.”
Asked if the DOI could be used by investors, multinationals and entrepreneurs when deciding where to set up stall, Mulley said it could be factored in to the decision-making process. “They’re going to be looking at this report. It’s a way of evaluating a market to see if you want to bring something in, if you want to bring your own company or bring a product into a market.”
Increasing broadband access and uptake was something that could be addressed in the short-term, said Mulley, but added that joined-up thinking when it comes to ICT investment and education was necessary. He pointed to Estonia, which only started investing in ICT about 10 years ago and is nine places above Ireland in the DOI.
“We needs an overall government policy in the technology area,” he postulated. “At the moment it’s divided between the Department of Education, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Department of Trade and Enterprise. We need somebody with cross-departmental responsibility for this. We have an E-Minister but from what I see there doesn’t seem to be a big push in this area. There’s been some great government projects but a lot more investment needs to be done with a full ministerial portfolio as well.”
The DOI was formulated by the ITU in conjunction with the Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion, the Ministry of Information and Communication of the Republic of Korea and the UN Conference on Trade and Development.
By Niall Byrne