Flaws Exposed in U.N. Technology Report

Published May 1, 2009

A United Nations report on the state of telephone and Internet technology gives the United States poor marks, but experts say the country-to-country comparisons are fatally flawed.

The report, produced by the U.N. International Communications Union and released in March, included rankings on an ICT Development Index measuring information and communication technologies.

According to the report, the U.S. (17) has been passed by Japan (12), Germany (13), and New Zealand (16) in the rankings. Yet the report found more than eight in 10 Americans had cell phone accounts in 2007, compared with just under half the population in 2002. Also, 20 percent of Americans have cellular broadband accounts—a technology that did not even exist in 2002.

Poor Comparisons

Sweden—ranked first overall on the index—has more cellular accounts than people. Howard Melamed, CEO and president of Coral Springs, Florida-based CellAntenna Corp., said that exposes the folly of the comparisons.

“I’ll tell you why Sweden has more cell phones than people,” Melamed said. “The average Swede has two phones to make sure he can get all his calls. The service there is much less reliable than it is here.”

Melamed also noted the United Kingdom, which ranks ahead of the United States, defines much slower rates as “high speed” than the U.S. does.

“The U.K. has terrible copper phone lines,” Melamed said, noting cable broadband, common here, doesn’t exist in many European countries. “So while 95 percent may have access to ‘high-speed’ Internet in Britain, that speed is often slow by American standards.”

U.S. Market Spurs Innovation

Fairfax, Virginia-based technology consultant Joe Walsh said the United States has done “a wonderful job of encouraging the free-market economy, and in most cases this encourages innovation.

“Apple’s success in garnering over 20 percent of the smart phone market in less than two years has put the industry on notice,” Walsh said. “Innovations in technology, such as touch screen interfaces, reasonable pricing, and marketing [for smart phone applications], are all exploding across the industry.”

Resist ‘Socialism’

Despite the U.N. ranking, it is clear America is at “the forefront of technology,” Melamed said. To stay on top, he said, the public needs to resist the “bailout and mandate” trend he sees in Washington.

“We’re moving closer and closer toward socialism in this country,” Melamed said. “There are companies out there, such as in Britain and Poland, that know how to operate in a socialist environment. For us, it’s a culture shock.

“The rest of the world can’t wait for us to become socialist,” Melamed said. “Then there will be a level playing field between them and us again.”

James G. Lakely ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Infotech & Telecom News.

For more information …

“Measuring the Information Society—The ICT Development Index, 2009 Edition,” United Nations International Telecommunications Union: http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/publications/idi/2009/index.html