Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Speaking as a long-term resident of South Korea, the current national debate in the United States about "net neutrality" seems strangely out of touch with the times. Here in Korea, full access to the internet, as with other digital communications services, is taken for granted as the right of every citizen. If someone were to suggest that this right should be taken away or curtailed, it would be loudly opposed by the majority of "netizens." This was not always the case. History teaches us that South Korea suffered major social problems and lagged behind most other countries of the world in basic telephone services until at least 1980. However, in the 1980s they implemented policies, invested heavily and worked hard to change the situation. The result: Korea has become a beacon for the rest of the world, showing the importance of broadly-based access to broadband internet. To make the point as sharply as possible, South Korea ended its debate about "net neutrality" over a quarter century ago. The networks they built then were electronically switched, with fiber optic backbones, and were not considered completed until they had reached a majority of the farming and fishing villages that characterize rural Korea. For information on what "net neutrality" means in the current U.S. debate, one can turn to Google. They have published a Guide to Net Neutrality for Google Users. There are many other sources of information about this issue, some of which will be mentioned and linked in future posts. However, at this point in time it would appear that the United States is experiencing a profound failure of telecommunications policy. By deferring to the private sector, led by the likes of Comcast, the United States is falling behind many other countries in the development of this century's "information society." In the emerging information age, those nations that invest in the free access to and free flow of information will benefit.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
My previous post noted the differences between Korea's ranking on the Digital Opportunity Index (DOI) and its world rank according to the Networked Readiness Index. In fact, although these two indices receive considerable attention, there are many more, as shown in Table 2 (click on the graphic to see a larger image) from the Global Information Society Watch website. The indices listed in this table all represent efforts to measure information and communication technology (ICT) and the manner in which it contributes to "development." However, they vary considerably in how ICT and development are conceptualized. They also differ in terms of the variables that are measured, the number of countries in which they are measured, and other important aspects. In future posts I plan to take a closer look at all of the major indices. However, at first glance it seems that the Digital Opportunity Index is a leader because of its origins and auspices. It is a product of the ITU's Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development , an international, multi-stakeholder initiative to improve the availability and quality of ICT data and indicators, particularly in developing countries. The World Bank's Knowledge Assessment Methodology (KAM) has produced other indexes, notably the Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) which can be explored in depth at their web site. For an interesting treatment of how these and other indices, including the Networked Readiness Index, compare, see the report "Measuring Progress" at the Global Information Society Watch website.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
The World Economic Forum has just released its Global Information Technology Report 2007-8, which centers on the "Networked Readiness Index" it developed a number of years ago. Although Korea shot up in the world rankings this year, from 19th to 9th, I cannot help wondering exactly why this index ranks it lower than the ITU's Digital Opportunity Index, by which South Korea is number one in the world. Most of you are probably thinking the same thing that I am, but I'm not ready to let the cat out of the bag without some further analysis. Quite obviously, these are two different indexes that measure different things. Equally obviously, I need to look at exactly what each index measures, why those measures were chosen, and how they are used. That will be the subject of future posts here. Your thoughts on this subject are most welcome.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Two days ago the English edition of the Joongang Ilbo, one of Korea's major daily newspapers, published my op-ed piece entitled "China's Choice." It addresses the dilemma faced by the government in Beijing as the Summer Olympics approach. Namely, efforts to suppress the free flow of news and information about Tibet and the 1989 uprising in Tienanmen Square will also undermine China's efforts to project a positive image to the world through the 2008 Olympics. In the Spring of 1987 the South Korean government faced a similar dilemma before the 1988 Seoul Olympics. It chose a path of political liberalization that also energized the nation's economy. Today there are media reports that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has warned China against any attempt to restrict internet access by the international media during the 2008 Olympics. Indeed, if China attempts to carry its "Great Firewall of China" policy into the Olympics it will strike at the heart of the modern Olympic Games, which are essentially a global television and media celebration of sport. More importantly, efforts to control or channel modern networked media will inevitably stifle China's ambitious economic goals. The government in Beijing is indeed, caught on the horns of a dilemma.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
The Korea Times last week published an article entitled "Search Engines Dig Deeper, Wider." The article noted, in part that "The so-called ``specialized searching'' is the hot trend in the Internet search industry here. Due to meticulous demands from Internet users and fierce competition among Web sites to win advertisers, portals are continuously upgrading their searching techniques into a level that excels Google and other foreign engines, at least for Korean-language sources." The last three words, "Korean-language sources" are crucial for an understanding of the whole article. On the one hand, the amount of Korean language content on the web is increasing, and being made available in a format that users can appreciate. On the other hand, this article underscores clearly how language places limits on use of the internet and search activity. While Koreans may enjoy having more content available in their native language, they need to appreciate that these "deeper and wider" searches by Naver and Daum do not constitute searches of the "World-Wide Web." Instead, they search only one province of the web, that which consists of Korean-language pages. For many purposes, Koreans might want to go beyond this and explore what people from other nations and cultures have posted on the web. Those seeking such a more comprehensive search would be well advised to use Google, with the understanding that its translation services are only a rough guide to the real meaning of web pages in English and other languages.