What Do We Have Against France?

One of my colleagues and advisors is from France, and currently working in the Sophia Antipolis tech enclave in the southeast of the country. He wonders why I never mention France in my stories about the global leaders in our rankings.

This is a valid question, and one that I know people also ask in many other highly developed nations, including the US. After all, aren’t the highly developed places the ones with the best quality of life, the best access to modern technology, the greatest places to live?

Perhaps they are. After three years in developing Southeast Asia, I can say that in many ways life is better for me back in the US. It is certainly physically less taxing.

What We Seek
But at the Tau Institute, we are not seeking to find the places with the most development or the most comfortable standards of living. Many other organizations already do that, and do that quite well.

Rather, we seek to identify those countries that are doing the most with what they have, ie, the relative leaders when it comes to their ICT environments, and by extension, the most potential for improving their economies and the lives of their people in the future.

And in fact, a number of highly developed nations have cracked into the Top 20 of the 102 nations we currently survey. New Zealand finishes #3 in the world (behind only South Korea and Estonia), and the Top 20 also includes the Netherlands, Finland, all of Scandinavia excepting Norway, the UK, Germany, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Belgium, and Australia.

But no France, no United States, and what happened to Norway, anyway?

We measure Internet and broadband access levels, average bandwidth speed, and other factors against the local cost of living – the idea is that technology is relatively more expensive in countries with an overall lower cost of living, so a lower-cost country will rank higher if it achieves the same development level as a higher-cost country. So a high cost of living in France and Norway work against these countries in our rankings.

To drill down into just one small example, Norway has the highest level of Internet access in the world, at 94%, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). France ranks 13th, at almost 80%. It slightly trails Germany and the UK.

But then there is Slovakia at 74%, achieved with a per capita income level less than half of that of Norway or France, and a cost of living that’s discounted 38% from the benchmark US dollar. We thus score Slovakia significantly higher in this category than we do France. Extend this approach across a variety of technology and socio-economic factors, and the countries doing the relative best, ie, doing the most with what they have, emerge.

US Lagging
The United States does not score well in our rankings, either. It can be contrasted to Canada, which does. But isn’t the US the world’s technology innovation crucible? Why does it not rank highly?

We do not seek to measure technology development, but rather, its deployment and use. In our key areas, the US barely makes the world’s top 20 in Internet access, its average speed is similar to Canada (which achieves this at an income level lower than the US), and its socio-economic factors (eg income disparity) trail Canada (and many Western European countries). Add it all up, and the US does not rank among the world’s top-tier leaders; Canada does.

It’s All Relative
All of this could lead to a question of whether we are thus penalizing wealthy countries for being successful. We are not.

Rather, we realize it is common knowledge that Norway and France are wealthy, provide a great quality of life generally, and provide great Internet access specifically. I’d happily live in either of these countries if the opportunity presented itself.

What we seek instead is to unearth uncommon knowledge about those countries that are doing the most with what they have.

If you want to identify the world’s wealthiest countries, simply look to Wikipedia. If you want to know who has the highest Internet and broadband access, simply look to ITU statistics. Look to other easily available resources for other simple statistics. But if you want to know who is doing the best with technology deployment and use on a relative basis, look to us.

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