6. Conclusion and Call for Continued Research

In the preceding chapters the Committee addressed the issue of analyzing impacts of the Internet. The discussion began with Internet suppliers and users, and the environment–social, technical, and regulatory–in which the Internet is supplied and used. Quantity and quality of Internet services and content were discussed. The report then looked at some of the potential impacts of the Internet on such organizations as businesses, government agencies, or private voluntary organizations. Finally, the discussion proceeded to the impacts of the Internet on the education, private, and government sectors and on the developmental goals central to those sectors.

In their research in the United States and their many site visits and interviews in Africa, committee members were impressed with the recognition among Internet users and providers and policymakers of the need for a better analytical framework within which introduction and use of the Internet can be studied. Even those individuals in Ghana and Senegal who were just beginning to use the Internet in their organizations were looking for a way to evaluate its utility.

The committee members found that much can be determined about Internet use in a country and by institutions and individual users. The information collected in Ghana and Senegal, and to a lesser extent Kenya, is a sampling of the available data and anecdotal evidence of the Internet 's impacts, perceived benefits, and unexpected consequences.

Some measurements are very straightforward and can be monitored regularly with very little effort. For example, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) can easily use a proxy server to monitor the amount of Internet traffic and the source and destination of that traffic. Other measurements would require a significant amount of effort. Any interested organization or individual must decide what information is needed and which measurements would best serve his



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Internet Counts: Measuring the Impacts of the Internet 6. Conclusion and Call for Continued Research In the preceding chapters the Committee addressed the issue of analyzing impacts of the Internet. The discussion began with Internet suppliers and users, and the environment–social, technical, and regulatory–in which the Internet is supplied and used. Quantity and quality of Internet services and content were discussed. The report then looked at some of the potential impacts of the Internet on such organizations as businesses, government agencies, or private voluntary organizations. Finally, the discussion proceeded to the impacts of the Internet on the education, private, and government sectors and on the developmental goals central to those sectors. In their research in the United States and their many site visits and interviews in Africa, committee members were impressed with the recognition among Internet users and providers and policymakers of the need for a better analytical framework within which introduction and use of the Internet can be studied. Even those individuals in Ghana and Senegal who were just beginning to use the Internet in their organizations were looking for a way to evaluate its utility. The committee members found that much can be determined about Internet use in a country and by institutions and individual users. The information collected in Ghana and Senegal, and to a lesser extent Kenya, is a sampling of the available data and anecdotal evidence of the Internet 's impacts, perceived benefits, and unexpected consequences. Some measurements are very straightforward and can be monitored regularly with very little effort. For example, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) can easily use a proxy server to monitor the amount of Internet traffic and the source and destination of that traffic. Other measurements would require a significant amount of effort. Any interested organization or individual must decide what information is needed and which measurements would best serve his

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Internet Counts: Measuring the Impacts of the Internet or her needs, and ISPs and other organizations that have the data must be convinced of the need for steady monitoring and sharing of data at least in part with researchers. The committee believes that this report is a first step in providing an analytical framework for evaluating the Internet's impacts. Much work remains to be done in the topics included in this report, in identifying indicators for other sectors and other uses, and of course in-country coverage for testing the indicators. A number of researchers and research organizations are studying various aspects of information technologies and their effects in both industrialized and developing countries. As this body of research grows, there is a need to share the data with those conducting the research and those who might be impacted by it. To this end, the committee suggests that a standing international network of research and policy formulation would be useful. Additional areas beyond the scope of this report that deserve further study are noted below. Causality. As noted in Chapter 2, the use of indicators is complicated by the difficulty in proving a causal relationship. Some direct impacts of the Internet are very specific and relatively easy to measure, but as one moves to more and more indirect relationships (e.g., increases in productivity and speed of work) external influences increase and causality becomes increasingly difficult to ascertain. In such cases, ascertaining causality will require minimizing external influences and using surrogate indicators. While indirect impacts may be difficult to identify, measure, and modify, they may also be of great social and economic importance; indeed, the more global the impact, the more indirect and difficult it is to measure. These difficulties of determining social impacts are not unique to the Internet. A study commissioned by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund found similar difficulties for other media in other regions.34 More research is needed in both the methodology and application of such techniques. 34   Ernest Wilson, 1997, Globalization, Information Technology and Conflict in the Second and Third Worlds: A Critical Review of the Literature, Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

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Internet Counts: Measuring the Impacts of the Internet Communication and development. This report began by stating that the committee considers the Internet to be a mechanism for conveying information and that the framework or indicators presented here are intended to help analyze the impacts of its introduction and use. But how does communication per se lead to development? The links between communication, decisionmaking, and development are contained implicitly in much of the above discussion. They have also been the topic of related research. But more can be done to understand more fully the impact of information and, by association, information technologies on decisionmaking and development. Country-specific case studies. The committee very strongly recommends an in-depth, longitudinal case study approach to compliment the approach used in this report to study the impacts of the Internet–that is, quantitative and qualitative indicators. A study over time of individual and institutional users and the benefits and limitations they anticipate, perceive, and realize would provide additional useful information on Internet use and diffusion. The committee is aware of some efforts of this type (e.g., work by the Network Startup Research Center) and believes the approach should be further employed. Institutional use and diffusion of the Internet. This report offers a preliminary model for institutional use and diffusion of the Internet among sectors. However, much work remains to be done in this area. Is there a “typical” path of Internet diffusion within countries? Is it dependent on the work of one or very few strong individuals, or do gross national product and other environmental factors play a larger role? What is the effect on diffusion of privatization of the Internet and removal of limits to commercial traffic? Also, internetworking was an indigenous development in the United States and to a lesser degree in Europe, but largely a transferred technological system in Africa. What effect has this had? These and other questions related to diffusion merit further research. Cost of the Internet. Organizations in Africa will find that the monthly fee to an ISP is only a part of the cost of the Internet, indeed perhaps a small part of the cost of using it effectively.

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Internet Counts: Measuring the Impacts of the Internet In addition to hardware and software costs and others noted in previous sections, effective use of the Internet entails support costs, which in the United States include help lines and information officers in the organization. In fact, little is known about the true costs to organizations of the Internet. ISPs have complex pricing policies and are reluctant to disseminate information on income from clients. Typically accounting processes in firms do not provide reports on costs (or benefits) of Internet use. (Indeed, measuring the contribution of information technology to productivity is a major challenge for economists today.) Development of methods would be needed to make such reports possible. Yet in Africa the costs of the Internet will be critical in determining the rate of diffusion of the technology and the priority that should be assigned to it. Case studies of the costs of Internet use in typical enterprises, NGOs, and government agencies should be given priority. Use versus nonuse of the Internet. An area requiring additional research is the effects of growth of the Internet on nonusers. Penetration of the Internet is occurring so quickly and is already so great that it will affect even those who cannot or choose not to connect. People in countries who do not have access to the Internet when large numbers of others do or who live in a country that does not have the Internet when competing nations do will feel certain effects of that nonuse. Public policy and Internet development. A topic the committee finds to require further research is the role of public policy and what policies seem to work best in supporting the development of the Internet. The rush of new communications technologies is forcing governments, employers, and users to alter their perceptions and policies on a host of public policy issues. For example, increased attention is being paid to issues of privacy and the boundaries between public and private information, and the shift away from governments as producers and owners of broadcasting and telecommunications and sometimes the press.