In this article we discuss the positive effects of Internet and how a small country (Estonia) played its cards right!
Over the past few years and even today, it has been repeatedly pointed out by many researchers and NGOs through key World Development Indicators that countries (or societies) with higher Internet penetration benefit with higher economic development, more open information and media communication, better civic systems such as education and healthcare, improved civic engagement democratic participation and overall enhancement in QOL in comparison to those countries (or societies) that have a low Internet penetration (Mauro F. Guillén, 2005) (Warschauer, 2002) (Richard Kahn, 2004) (Selwyn, 2004) (Norris, 2001).
The positive effects Internet can not be easy measured but it has transformed many aspects of our ways of life amid different spheres of our civil society – private, corporate and governmental.
The Case of Estonia
To understand how a society can completely transform itself by enabling quality Internet access for its citizens, Estonia presents a great case study on the positive effects on Internet.
Estonia, as a country with a population of 1.3 million, has one of the lowest digital divides with over 80% of citizens connected to the Internet as on 2013 (The World Bank, 2013).
As Estonia declared Internet access as a human right in 2000 and took the necessary steps to increase Internet penetration and overall Information and Communication Technology (ICT) adoption with efforts like the Tiger Leap program and EstWin; Estonia enjoyed improved GDP and overall Quality of Life rankings over time.
In less than 15 years, Estonia’s GDP grew by 4 times from 5.67 Billion USD in 2000 to 24.47 Billion USD in 2013. In 2013, over a fourth or 27% of services exported by Estonia were ICT based (The World Bank, 2013) amounting to 1.48 Billion USD (The World Bank, 2013).
As of 2013, 99.6% of all banking transactions in Estonia were done online (Republic of Estonia, 2006) and in the 2011 elections 15.34% of eligible population voted online (Republic of Estonia, 2011).
Most Estonian (and world) researchers, academicians and general citizens believe that the Quality of Life in Estonia has improved as the country implemented the necessarily ICT measures to bridge the digital divide. This transformed a fragile post-soviet country with information disparity into a highly advanced digital society.
Numerous studies have repeatedly shown the positive effects of Internet; and how countries with higher penetration and adoption of Internet like Estonia have resulted in better educational systems, improved democratic participation, government services, and higher economic development than countries that were late or non-adopters (Kattel, 2006) (Ifinedo, 2005) (Dasgupta, 2001).
The urgent need to bridge this digital divide has been recognized by the United Nations (Frank La Rue, 2011) and countries like Costa Rica (United States of America, 2011), Estonia (Republic of Estonia, 2006), Finland (BBC Network, 2010), France (Fox Networks, 2009), Greece (Government of Greece, 2008) and Spain (Sarah Morris, 2009); that have created frameworks and policies that consider Internet Access as a fundamental Human Right.
While users in some countries have been able to harness the potential of information technologies to thrive and become a major contender in today’s information economy, others have lagged behind as producers of low-value labor and products for wealthier nations. (Datta, 2011)
As of January 2014, the sad truth remains that over 60% of the world population do not use the Internet. (The World Bank, 2013). Most of these users come from poor or low-income countries. As the non-users miss out on this basic human right, the online population of the world is losing out on their creativity and contribution.