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Sweden ranks first in 2012 INSEAD-WEF Global Information Technology Report

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Southern Europe

All four of the European Union’s southern countries - Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece - are still lagging behind in terms of ICT uptake and impacts vis-á-vis the rest of Western European economies. In general, despite acceptable levels of ICT infrastructure development, the traditional lag in poorly performing educational and innovation systems does not allow these countries to benefit to the same extent in the potential economic impacts accruing from ICT.

Portugal #33 and Spain #38 benefit from a fairly well developed ICT infrastructure. This is reflected by the international Internet bandwidth values where Portugal ranks 7th and Spain 24th. However, the cost of accessing this infrastructure, especially in the case of Spain (90th), is still high and therefore the uptake rates by individuals and businesses in both countries still lag behind those of more advanced economies. Moreover, the poor quality of the educational system (76th and 98th, respectively) and the traditional lag in research and development and other related innovation investments do not allow these countries to fully leverage ICT and obtain the positive economic impacts of other advanced economies in the European Union. 

"The average performance of Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain is significantly below that of the Nordic countries. The chasm turns cavernous when considering specific dimensions of the NRI. That is the case in the business usage pillar, where the gap between Southern Europe and the Nordics is comparable to that between Developing Asia and advanced economies." 
#48 Italy presents a profile similar to those of Portugal and Spain with a couple of singular characteristics that have relegated the country to this lower position. In addition to the underperformance of the educational and innovation systems, the weak functioning of the political and regulatory environment (85th) hinders the overall functioning of the economy. The second singular characteristic is that the government is clearly lagging behind in the effort to leverage ICT to boost competitiveness (113th). Addressing these weaknesses should be a priority not only to leverage the use of ICT, but to boost competitiveness more broadly.

Greece, at #59 depicts important weaknesses that hinder its capacity to take full advantage of its fairly good ICT infrastructure (42nd). Despite a good ICT penetration at the individual level (49th), both businesses (97th) and the government (102nd) have failed to recognize and fully integrate ICT in their activities. Moreover, in addition to the traditional severe lag in innovation, the political and regulatory environment (87th) contributes to the country’s inability to fully benefit from ICT, both economically (73rd) and socially (77th).

Strategic investments in ICT
In 2007, the Portuguese government launched a national program called Magalhães (Magellan) to provide subsidized laptops with 3G connectivity to all secondary students and teachers in the country using funds from the auction of 3G licenses. In 2008 this initiative was extended to primary school students, and it reached more than 1.3 million students and teachers over a period of three years. The cost of broadband was as low as 5 euros for 2 GB of data per month and laptops including an external 3G USB modem would cost a maximum of 150 euros. This program was widely marketed and publicized both by the government and private partners. The outcome was clear: two years after the start of the program, most of the students and teachers in Portugal had acquired their own laptops.

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