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Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan Separated by Growing Digital Divide

They might be neighbors on the map, but Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan couldn’t be further apart in how they utilize information and communications technology (ICT). A model for the former Soviet Union, Kazakhstan is charging ahead, according to a new report measuring how ICT affects competitiveness, leaving much-poorer Kyrgyzstan in its digital dust.

ICT is about more than getting online, says the report, published by the World Economic Forum. Today it’s a critical part of any economy, driving growth and job creation.

Information flows and networks have spread across borders in ways that could not be imagined before the onset of the Internet, the global adoption of mobile telephony and social networks, and the rapid growth of broadband. […] It is clear that ICTs offer higher benefit-to-cost ratios in all sectors of production, while simultaneously offering new ways to create value by better and more efficiently organizing the use of natural, financial, and human resources.

In its 12th year, the Global Information Technology Report uses the Networked Readiness Index – computed with 54 indicators – to compare how 144 economies “leverage ICT for growth and well-being.”

This year Kyrgyzstan ranked last among former-Soviet states, at 118, between Suriname and Bolivia. Kazakhstan on the other hand, at 43, beat out all post-Soviet countries, save for the advanced Baltic states, placing between the Czech Republic and Hungary. Russia placed 54th.

The April 10 report praised Astana for its top-down reforms, though it offered poor quantitative assessments of Kazakhstan’s education system, judiciary, and in political reform:

Leading the region, Kazakhstan depicts a strong performance with a rise of 12 positions to 43rd place. Improvements virtually across the board – led by a strong government vision (35th) that continues to develop the ICT infrastructure (63rd) and supports stronger ICT uptake – as evidenced by the number of Internet users (62nd), along with households with a personal computer (63rd) and those with Internet access (55th), which have almost doubled since the last observation – have driven this good result. Notwithstanding this progress, the economic impacts (66th) accruing from a higher use of ICTs remain modest in their ability to spur new services or products (92nd) and raise the national competitiveness, mainly because of a low capacity for local innovation (92nd), an educational system that is deemed insufficient for the challenges ahead (101st), weaknesses in the political and regulatory environment (77th), and some concerns about the functioning of the judicial system (94th).

Tajikistan, which jostles with Kyrgyzstan for status as poorest country in the region, improved two places to 112.

On a less positive note, the Kyrgyz Republic, at 118th, has not managed to join its neighbors in better leveraging ICTs to boost its economic competitiveness.

The index does not measure press or Internet freedom. Kazakhstan does much poorer than Kyrgyzstan on those counts, according to Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

Three countries that Reporters Without Borders classifies at “Internet Enemies” – Belarus, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – were not included in the World Economic Forum index. Turkmenistan has some of the worst Internet connectivity on the planet. That may be little solace, but if those countries were included, Kyrgyzstan would likely not be last in the region.

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan Separated by Growing Digital Divide

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