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U.N. finds wide digital divide

A study from the United Nations' International Telecommunication Union shows that the digital divide is alive and well. Nordic countries lead the globe in Internet accessibility.

The digital divide is alive and well around the world, according to a new international survey.

A study released Wednesday by the United Nations' International Telecommunication Union (ITU) assesses Internet accessibility around the globe in 2002. Perhaps unsurprisingly, highly developed Western and Asian economies were found to do well in providing people with access, while agrarian economies in the African continent and elsewhere did poorly.

The survey of 178 economies--singling out mostly countries but some cities as well--found that Nordic countries are leading the world in terms of Internet accessibility. Sweden and Denmark won the survey's top two spots, and Norway was No. 5.

Others in the top 10 are Iceland, Korea, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Finland, Taiwan and Canada--which tied with the United States for 10th place. The United Kingdom followed its North American progeny for a 12th-place ranking.

African nations dominated the bottom 30 slots in the list.

The ITU survey provides further grist for the debate over the so-called digital divide, or the gap between people who have access to advanced communications technologies and those who don't.

An October study affiliated with chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices reported that the digital divide is widening within some industrialized nations.

In announcing the results of the Digital Access Index, the ITU praised government-sponsored initiatives to broaden accessibility.

Economies in the upper tier of the index have benefited from "government policies (that) helped them reach an impressive level of (information and communication technology) access," the ITU said in a statement. "This includes major ICT projects such as the Dubai Internet City in the United Arab Emirates--the highest ranked Arab nation in the DAI--the Multimedia Super Corridor in Malaysia--the highest ranked developing Asian nation--and the Cyber City in Mauritius--along with Seychelles, the highest ranked African nation."