Sponsored article: Talk Talk discusses the impact of the World Wide Web Foundation report on global broadband access
The internet has made a huge difference to the way we live. It's barely a decade since the average person in the UK first went online, but it can already seem like a near-essential in many areas of our lives.
But next time you stream music, check your bank balance, or order that hard-to-find something online, bear in mind that having easy access to the internet is a privilege - one which not all countries share.
In fact, according to a recent report by the World Wide Web Foundation, the UK is among the best in the world at putting the web to work.
This first Web Index looked at 61 countries, ranking them in terms of the penetration and take-up of the internet - as well as the impact it has had on the financial, cultural, social and political life of the country. In short, it aims to measure how well a country uses the web.
And according to these criteria, Sweden is the top-ranked country in the world, ahead of the USA in second place, and the UK in third. However, looking at data from the past five years, the index found relative weaknesses even among these three top countries.
For example, Sweden was ranked relatively low in terms of information available, compared to other top-ranking countries. Meanwhile, although the US is judged the best for overall content of the web, relatively few households have personal computers and average internet speeds are relatively slow.
In these areas, however, the UK shines, with a higher percentage of both mobile and broadband subscriptions than the US, and far higher average internet speeds.
Level playing field?
The foundation is led by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, credited as the inventor of the web, whose vision embraces the idea that the internet is something which should not be denied to anyone. Despite this, the index highlights the fact that only one in three people around the world have internet access, with fewer than one in six people in Africa able to get online.
It noted that close to 30% of the countries involved in the study faced "moderate to severe government restrictions on access to websites", and that around half of all countries showed "increasing threats to press freedom".
At the bottom end of the index, Yemen placed last, just behind Zimbabwe, with other countries such as Ethiopia and Nepal in the bottom ten dominated by African nations. In addition to the government intervention which affects what people can access in some of these countries, the index identified that broadband connections could cost up to half the per capita monthly income - effectively pricing many people out of the information market.
Pointing to "growing suppression of free speech" - both online and offline - as the biggest danger to the web, Berners-Lee added: "The high price of connectivity is stopping billions of people from achieving their rights to knowledge and participation. "Costs have got to come down dramatically."
The index follows closely on the UK government making clear its designs on having the fastest broadband in Europe by 2015. According to a recent league table by web company Akamai, we currently have the 15th fastest broadband in the EU.
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