For the past year, I have worked with ICANN colleagues and community leaders to convene stakeholders to discuss e-friction. The concept of e-friction was developed by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), in a report released last year, entitled Greasing the Wheels of the Internet Economy. It describes the barriers that keep countries, companies and consumers from realizing the full benefits of the global, scalable Internet. ICANN commissioned the research to provide a reminder of the economic benefits we derive from the digital economy, and point the way to further gains.
In places as diverse as Silicon Valley, Istanbul, Guadalajara, Berlin, Manila and Kigali, a mix of policy makers, business and civic leaders have gathered to review country rankings based on the BCG e-friction index, based on 55 measures for potential sources of e-friction – things like Internet bandwidth per capita, quality of education system, adult literacy rate and freedom of the net. The most gratifying aspect of the work has been to see Internet stakeholders of diverse backgrounds, from business associations, government departments, universities and the like, rolling up their sleeves to address the challenges of their country. In some cases they have told us that it is the first time they are meeting together to discuss their digital future.
In other cases, however, participants raised additional aspects of their condition. One Minister in a highly networked Asian economy talked about the linguistic divide between English and the language of her compatriots, another described the geography of her country as a particular impediment. Many participants in these dialogues raised the simple fact that some countries are rich enough to afford the investment required to improve their e-friction scores. It was incredibly valuable feedback.
Acting on that feedback, BCG today released an update to their report, entitled Which Wheels to Grease? The update re-examines data from the report in light of additional, specific challenges countries face in growing their digital economies.
One of the innovations of the update is to regroup countries by both their e-friction scores and their per capita GDP. This approach allows countries to look for lessons from others at the same income level, but better e-friction scores. Their conclusion is that countries need not see wealth as destiny, since many levers exist to reduce e-friction, whatever their level of GDP.
What else did BCG find? On the subject of literacy, the report finds that while basic literacy, English-language and ICT skills all help reduce e-friction, encouraging local relevance is also effective: local content in local languages will drive Internet usage, as will the provision of e-government services. The report contains further helpful insights related to demography and geography, and sheds new light on how to develop a digital economy action plan at the national level. Taken together, the BCG reports underscore the economic upside of embracing the global and interoperable Internet that ICANN's work supports.
BCG and ICANN previewed the latest findings in roundtables held in Rome and Barcelona. We anticipate many opportunities in the coming months to convene diverse stakeholders, particularly those in developing economies, to help them achieve their vision for a successful and frictionless e-future.
To download the full report, click here [PDF, 236 KB].