5. Internet Diffusion or Paths of Impacts

Having offered indicators for various aspects of supply and demand for the Internet, in this chapter, the committee deviates from indicators slightly to discuss how the Internet is diffused within countries and sectors. Diffusion processes have been studied in a number of circumstances,33 and there is some understanding of the diffusion of the Internet in developed countries. Are there key differences between the diffusion process in developed countries and that in Africa? Can models of diffusion or paths of impact within countries be developed to describe actual and anticipated patterns?

In the United States, scientific and technological organizations led in the development of the Internet and its earlier networking versions. The military developed computer networking early to provide cross-networking for military information in the event of nuclear attack; early users of alternative computer networking protocols included airlines, the travel industry, banks, and others in the financial services industry. The academic sector quickly saw the advantages that the Internet offered in networking and information exchange, and growth of Internet use in the academic community has grown steadily in the 1990s. Commercial use of the Internet in the United States did not occur until the restrictions on commercial use were removed and the National Science Foundation moved to privatize Internet services. But commercial domains have now come to dominate the Internet, and firms involved in business-to-business transactions dominate commercial-sector use (as opposed to firms using the Internet to communicate with private consumers).

The committee found that in Senegal the introduction of electronic mail came through international development organizations; but, unlike in the United States, the academic sector to date has not played a large role in further development of the Internet. Internet diffusion in Ghana

33  

Everett M. Rogers, 1995, Diffusion of Innovations (Fourth Edition), The Free Press, New York.



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OCR for page 64
Internet Counts: Measuring the Impacts of the Internet 5. Internet Diffusion or Paths of Impacts Having offered indicators for various aspects of supply and demand for the Internet, in this chapter, the committee deviates from indicators slightly to discuss how the Internet is diffused within countries and sectors. Diffusion processes have been studied in a number of circumstances,33 and there is some understanding of the diffusion of the Internet in developed countries. Are there key differences between the diffusion process in developed countries and that in Africa? Can models of diffusion or paths of impact within countries be developed to describe actual and anticipated patterns? In the United States, scientific and technological organizations led in the development of the Internet and its earlier networking versions. The military developed computer networking early to provide cross-networking for military information in the event of nuclear attack; early users of alternative computer networking protocols included airlines, the travel industry, banks, and others in the financial services industry. The academic sector quickly saw the advantages that the Internet offered in networking and information exchange, and growth of Internet use in the academic community has grown steadily in the 1990s. Commercial use of the Internet in the United States did not occur until the restrictions on commercial use were removed and the National Science Foundation moved to privatize Internet services. But commercial domains have now come to dominate the Internet, and firms involved in business-to-business transactions dominate commercial-sector use (as opposed to firms using the Internet to communicate with private consumers). The committee found that in Senegal the introduction of electronic mail came through international development organizations; but, unlike in the United States, the academic sector to date has not played a large role in further development of the Internet. Internet diffusion in Ghana 33   Everett M. Rogers, 1995, Diffusion of Innovations (Fourth Edition), The Free Press, New York.

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Internet Counts: Measuring the Impacts of the Internet initially has largely been driven by the local private sector, foreign companies, and development organizations. In both Ghana and Senegal, individual use is far less common than organizational and institutional uses, largely because many individuals lack the capital for a telephone line and computer. Thus, what is evident today is a high rate of users in nongovernmental (NGOs) and international organizations users as compared with domestic academic and commercial users. In the United States the development of the Internet seems to have been driven by key technical changes, including the development of e-mail and file transfer protocols, development of the World Wide Web, and development of browser software. In Africa the lag in diffusion of Internet technology has reduced the immediacy of the impacts of these innovations. The Internet is much more affordable in developed countries than in Africa, since not only are prices lower but per-capita incomes are much higher. Therefore, diffusion of the Internet in Africa appears likely to lag that in developed countries and to be much more limited to economic elites than it has been in the United States. Given the economic status of foreign expatriates in Africa as compared to Africans, and given the experiential advantage that earlier introduction of the Internet in their home countries provided the foreign expatriates in Africa, the diffusion process also appears much more likely to provide comparative advantage to foreigners in Africa than was the case in the United States. General diffusion theory suggests that leaders in the adoption of a new technology appear to be better educated than average, and data for the United States suggest that education is a predictor of Internet use. Developed countries are much more homogeneous educationally than are African countries, and diffusion of the Internet in Africa can be expected to be slower in part because most citizens have had little schooling. In the United States the initial emphasis was to stimulate communication within the country, while the fact that developed countries are now heavily networked as Africa begins the process suggests that the effect of the Internet in Africa may be to increase international communication rather than internal communication. The fact that international telephone connections are often of far better quality than domestic ones in Africa will strengthen this tendency toward increased international communication relative to internal communication.

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Internet Counts: Measuring the Impacts of the Internet Similarly, the availability of significant digital collections of information outside Africa might tend to increase reliance on external (foreign) sources over indigenous sources. One might also look at the Internet path of impact within an institution or organization. For example, a typical pattern of Internet diffusion in a U.S. organization may be: an enterprise acquires Internet access –> communication within the enterprise improves –> the enterprise talks to its clients via the Internet –> the enterprise's productivity increases But the Committee research suggests that in Africa interorganizational communications may precede intraorganizational communications. That is: an enterprise's leadership acquires Internet access → the leadership communicates with foreign counterparts → productivity increases (especially as communications costs decline) → the enterprise invests in local-area networks and other intraorganizational communications technologies Field research by the committee in Senegal and Ghana suggested a similar pattern for diffusion, particularly for NGOs: an organization acquires Internet connectivity → communication with (foreign) counterpart organizations improves and increases → organization-to-client and organization-to-organization communication increases→ sophistication of use increases → the organization's activities increase and become more effective → communication with (domestic) sectoral colleagues improves and increases

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Internet Counts: Measuring the Impacts of the Internet Under this latter model, connectivity is established by enabling individuals within an organization to communicate more effectively with similar organizations, often in other countries. An example of this would be increased communications, and hence collaboration, between NGOs working on health improvements speaking with other NGOs, both domestically and with sister organizations internationally, working on the same issue. Following the model, that organization would then increase communications with foreign funders and beneficiaries of its services. This would be followed by increasingly more sophisticated use and by the NGO increasing its activities and effectiveness. For example, the NGO will begin to use the Internet for more than just electronic mail, perhaps designing its own Web page, providing information about its activities, and so forth. Communication with other domestic NGOs in the same sector follows. Within a country there are certainly a variety of models or paths that can be described. For example, while appropriate for NGOs, this model may be less accurate when describing the government sector or the private sector. The committee found that, among government ministries in Ghana and Senegal, communication with other governmental organizations is likely not the first use of the Internet. Clearly, more study is required to develop any diffusion models or to suggest patterns in the paths of impact. The committee believes that diffusion and impact pathways are topics requiring significant further research, as noted in the next chapter.