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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

Internet and Its Impact on Developing Countries: Examples from China and India.

New version.

Dr. Kanti Srikantaiah
The World Bank
Washington D.C., USA
Xiaoying Dong
Department of Information Management
Peking University, China


In the new information climate, developments in access and delivery of information through electronic means have posed challenges for many countries, especially in the developing world. The main vehicle for such electronic access and delivery is the Internet, through which it is now possible to access rapidly and inexpensively, large volumes of data and information, created throughout the world. The Internet, although only a few years old, has significantly changed information management in developed countries through creating pressures to further improve communication systems and develop more user friendly environment for the sharing of information. Now, the Internet has began penetrating developing countries, changing information practices in various sectors. The impact of Internet in developing countries is several fold: It is changing traditional ways of conducting information business by establishing new sources of information and new methods of communication on a global basis. It has created pressure to update the information/technology infrastructure. It has created healthy competition by bringing many international and indigenous vendors of IT on the same platform and has helped policy makers take advantage of access to global sources of information. In this background, the paper discusses the role of the Internet and its impact on developing countries, including some major issues associated with electronic information access and delivery. The discussion of the paper, however, is focused on the two most populous countries in the world, China and India, which are also information rich countries in the East Asia region and the South Asia region, respectively.



  1. The World Bank has stated that although more than one billion people still live in poverty, developing countries have achieved substantial gains in living standards over the past twenty years and among low income countries China and India have emerged as two of the world’s leading industrial producers and exporters. [1]

  2. With the rapidly changing information environment, many countries all over the world are relying on the electronic access to information through the Internet. The Internet which is now sweeping many countries globally is revolutionizing the areas of information management and information technology. With the introduction of the Internet, developed countries have vastly improved their communication systems, and share information in a more user-friendly environment, contributing to a significant growth in economic development.

  3. The advanced countries have utilized the Internet in various sectors: agriculture, health, public sector management, industry, environment, telecommunication trade, etc.. After demonstrating the results on the ground in developed countries, the Internet has continued its penetration into the developing countries. It is well known among information professionals and users that the Internet has no boundaries (such as geographic) and therefore addressed as "cyberspace". In this background, the paper discusses the role of Internet in developing countries with specific examples from China and India.

    The Internet

  4. The idea of Internet originated about 25 years ago at the Defense Department Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to keep track of data through computer hardware and software. In reality, the Internet is a complex web of networks connected with high speed links cutting across countries. Therefore, there are no set boundaries for the Internet in cyberspace. According to the latest worldwide statistics [2] there were 50,000 networks in more than 100 countries with more than 50 million users. It is estimated that the rate of growth in the Internet usage is around 20% a month. At this point in time, the Internet is not proprietary and is available to anyone with computer access connected to the external world. After the U.S. launched Information Superhighway in 1994, the Internet is playing an ever increasing role in the vast information market in many countries.

    The Context of Developing Countries

  5. A statement made by the Prime Minister of Malaysia has been quoted as "it can be no accident that there is today no wealthy developed country that is information poor, information rich country that is poor and underdeveloped." [3] This statement emphasizes the importance of Internet for developing countries. From an international perspective, the access to and utilization of Internet in the world is unbalanced.


    Table 1. Distribution of networks connected with Internet (1995): G-7 countries, Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America
    source: NSFNET Networks by Country, 1 May 1995, http://nic.merit.edu/statistics/nsfnet/nets.by.country

    There are obvious gaps between developed countries and developing countries in terms of the numbers of nets, hosts and users. As a study from the Panos Institute indicated: "there is a danger of a new information elitism which excludes the majority of the world’s population." [4] Analysis of data for total notes and connection dates for selected countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Pacific, along with G-7 [5] countries (for comparison) is provided in Table 1. Analytically, 56% of the connections were in the United States, 26% were in Europe, 16% were in Canada and Latin America countries, and 12% were in Asia, Middle East and the remaining 1 % were in African countries. The G-7 countries took about 80% of total nets connected with Internet, and the number of nets in 55 developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America amounted to only 5%.

  6. There is another study based on the data from the World Bank economic and social indicators. According to this study, the correlation of Internet nodes with GNP per capita is 0.88. When adjusted for population size, the country with the highest density of nodes for its population was Switzerland. The United States ranked sixth, and India was one of the lowest. So the revolution of electronic publishing and accessing is really not global. [6]

  7. The timing of connection to the Internet in these countries is also significant. For instance, while most developed countries obtained their connection to Internet during 1988 through 1990, developing countries began their Internet connections recently, around 1994/1995. Even now, many developing countries do not have the Internet facilities. An approximate date of Internet connectivity for selected countries is also given in Table 1.

  8. The World Bank has published data on various economic and social indicators for 133 countries. For the usage of electronic information through the Internet, we have decided to include data on population, literacy rate and GNP for selected developing countries, along with the G-7 countries. The data is provided in Table-2. As it points out there is a definite correlation among the number of users of the Internet and the GNP and the literacy rate.

  9. China and India are the two most populous countries in the world. With more than 2 billion people in these two countries, the market for Internet is tremendous. In addition, both China and India are information rich countries with a long tradition of learning, publishing and with media activities. These two countries have experienced recently a phenomenal growth in economic terms. According to a World Bank report, the annual average growth of GNP during the ten year period covering 1985-1994 in China and in India was around 7% and 3% respectively. [7] Compared to other developing countries of the same scale, both China and India have shown significant growth in the development cycle and in the utilization of information technologies and in managing information. The steep decrease in PC price, the proliferating software in Asia with indigenous approaches, and the multimedia influx have contributed to the growing market and the utilization of Internet in China and India. According to a study, the sales of PC in the regions have expanded more than 20% each year. [8]


    Table 2. Basic indicators of selected developing countries and and G-7 countries
    Source: The World Bank Atlas: 1996. The World Bank, Washington, D.C. 1996.

    Information Environment in China and India

  10. A rating scale given by the Gartner Group predicts a long term potential for information technology in the Asia and Pacific region. [9] The rating is centered around population, education, GDP, economic growth, government support to IT, popularity of IT, IT industry and (its competitiveness), the industry type and international perspective. The details are given in Table 3 for China and India, along with selected countries for comparison. As the Table 3 points out, the total rating score for China was 75 and for India the score was 58.

  11. In the context of China, population of 1.2 billion people live on 9.6 million square kilometer territory. With its long civilization and tradition of learning, and with the rapidly growing economy since 1980, China has become one of the most powerful information resources and has become an integral part of the world information community. In 1995, there were 101,381 titles of new books, 7583 periodicals (4,014 scientific and technical journals) and 2089 newspapers (205 national and 844 provincial) published by nearly 600 publishers nationwide. There are 1080 universities located in 29 provinces graduating more than one million students each year. There are 350,000 libraries of different types, such as public libraries, university and school libraries, research libraries, military libraries and labor union libraries. By the year 2000, China plans to cover all villages and urban areas to have at least one library in each place.

  12. Government has always been the biggest information producer and at the same time the consumer of information. A total of 414 information centers belonging to different central government departments, China Statistical Bureau, China Economic Information Center and National Scientific and Technical Commission (NSTC) distribute and collect information from the central government to provincial, city and at county levels. For the general information services, Chinese information systems are divided into five categories: (a) information centers affiliated with the National Scientific and Technical Commission; (b) information centers belonging to the central government ministries; (c) information centers of provincial nature; (d) information centers of specialized nature affiliated to regional governments; (e) information centers affiliated with state enterprise, universities and other research institutions; (f) information centers of non-governmental, regional, professional and other similar bodies. [10] Since 1994, the global upsurge of information highway has also influenced the Chinese decision-makers, China's Information Superhighway, consisting of "Eight Golden Projects" covers networks among universities, industry and state own enterprises. The public need for the Internet and its potential is also tremendous.


    Table 3. Long-term potential of information technology in Asia and Pacific countries
    Source: Gartner Group Latest Report, China Infoworld, July, 29, 1996, Edition 41

  13. In the Indian context, since its independence in 1947, covering a vast area of over 3.2 million square kilometers, and a population of more than 900 million, India has made substantial progress in the field. In the area information, India is relatively rich, being the seventh largest publisher in the world. [11] It also boasts as supporting the 500 crore (US $162 million) book industry. For example, it publishes more than 18,000 monographic titles by 11,000 publishers each year. There are over 30,000 periodicals currently being published, of which 5,000 are in English. There are thousands of book sellers, over 196 universities and 8,100 colleges and research institutions. The student population in higher education alone exceeds 5 million. In Delhi alone, the capital of India, there are 360 booksellers, 6 universities, 80 colleges, roughly 40 research institutions , and over 100 government agencies. [12]

  14. Internally, the government offices and quasi-government offices at the central, state, district, sub-district and village levels consume a vast amount of information and produce a large volume of information. At the national level, the main sources of information include: various line ministries; the Central statistical organization (CSO); the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO); the Registrar General of India (RGI); the National Information Center (NIC); the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE); INSDOC; DELNET; Tata Energy Research Institution; The Center for Science and Environment; and the Federation of India Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FICCI). Similarly, there are hundreds of governmental bodies at the state and local levels. The information output from these offices in the various sectors is phenomenal. In addition, there is plenty of information created, acquired and disseminated in all manufacturing and servicing sectors. These sectors indicate the scope for the Internet in India. [13]

  15. Over the years, the demand for information has increased both in India and China. In India, the market for information in the English language is enormous as among the literates, the English speaking population is significant. They are generally well established in economic and social terms in the country and need information both in paper and electronic form. This is also reflected in the fact that in India, the majority of newspapers and periodicals are published in English. India being one of the largest publishers in the world exports a high qunatity of books and periodicals to countries in Asia and Africa and also to the western countries. It also imports considerable percentage of printed material from abroad. China has made substantial progress in the area of information managment and as stated earlier, the demand for information in China is on an exponential increase. With the inclusion of Hongkong, China has become a superpower in information acquisition and dissemination not only in Asia but also on a global basis. The demand for information in China will continue to grow in significant terms in the next decade. In both India and China, acessing the Internet will be extremely valuable.

    Internet connections

  16. In China, the first TCP/IP link to Internet was established in 1994 in the Institute of Higher Physics, Chinese Academy of Science (IHEP). The other networks connected with Internet are: (1) Chinanet (Chinese Public Internet) established and run by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication, the backbone of Internet connection in Beijing. It is available through local post office for subscription. (2) CERNET (China Education and Research Network) is owned by the State Education Commission. In 1996, CERNET connected 100 universities nationwide. Eventually, it will connect to all universities and will become the basis for the booming educational and research development. (3) NCFC (National Computing & Networking Facilities of China) started in 1989 and is the first high speed network funded by the State Planning Commission and the World Bank. In 1994, its international route was opened. (4) GBNET (Gi Tong Company Network) was established in 1994 supported by the Ministry of Electricity and has more than 1000 users.

  17. In a two year period, China has shown a big improvement in the number of computers and the number of users on Internet. For instance, in 1995, there were 400 computers and 3000 Internet users, and in 1996 it increased to 6000 computers and 40,000 users. ChinaNet, already mentioned above, plans to cover 30 provinces and the users from nationwide will exceed one million. [14] The users of Intenet are generally scientists, social scientists, academicians, university students, researchers and technical experts with higher educational background and proficient in the English language. Access to Internet is gained primarily through universities, scientific and technical institutions and corporations. In Shangai, for instance, great efforts have been made to integrate five specialized information networks into one Internet connection to estabish the biggest coastal industrial city into an internationalized "information port".

  18. In India, the Internet was initiated in November 1986 through Education and Research Network (ERNET) with the assistance of the Government of India and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) involving eight institutions in the country as participating agencies; the five Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) institutions, the Indian Institute of Science (IISC) in Bangalore, the National Center for Software Technology (CST) in Bombay and the Department of Electronics (DOE) in Delhi. With this collaborative effort, its multi-dimensional objectives covered: a) setting up a nationwide computer network for academic and research community promoting research and development in the country and their counterparts abroad; b) strengthening the national capabilities in information infrastructure; c) building specialized human resource through education and training to increase awareness of information resources available through the Internet; and d) opening up India-US technology gateway to provide a wide information base with other servers. [15] Three other internal service providers became involved at a later date. They were SOFTNET by STP, National Information Center (NICNET) and Gateway Internet Access Services (GIAS). [16]

  19. As of September 1996, India had more than 100,000 Internet users of which 70,000 for ERNET, 15,000 for SOFTNET, 2,000 for NICNET and 8,000 for GIAS. The users are expected to grow to 1 million in the next three years and by then the computer penetration in India will be around 10 million PCs. The education and research community has maximum penetration with 65% followed by business users of 25% and other users of 10% in the government and private household. A dramatic growth is expected once the entry of private sectors enter into the Internet market. The city of Bangalore is expected to dominate the internal market because of its "electronic city" image. [17]

    Current issues and Conclusions

  20. In terms of the Internet in developing countries, there are three major areas of concern that are significant which can be briefly mentioned under the following headings: a) national information policy; b) regulatory framework and information infrastructure; and c) education and training.

  21. National information policy. Developing countries have a long tradition of oral culture.also now measured by the low literacy rate. Although the awareness of information sources in written form or electronic form within the country is gaining speed among literates, in general, investment is not sufficient in the area of Internet. This relflects on the national information policies of developing countries. Currently, in those countries the national information policies mainly focus on trade, international relations, national security and on export technologies. In addition, the developing countries, to achieve faster economic growth and to attain economic substainability should include in their official documents plans and implementation of electronic information and delivery systems as one of the top priorities. items. The policy statements should be integrated into the national planning documents such as "five year plans" and should be implemented on schedule.

  22. Regulatory framework. and information infrastructure. The regulatory framework in developed countries is enforced to protect investment, intellectual property and individual privacy in the information market. The legal framework addresses the private sector involvement, skilled human resources, standards, and implementation. In most developing countries, regulatory framework for the information work hardly exists. Although the rapid growth of information technology is changing the way of doing business today at residence, at work and in organizations both in developed and in many developing countries, the regulatory framework has to improve considerably in developing countries to have any impact on the information sector. While the information technology area including telecommunications has penetrated every market in the developed world, the developing countries still view information technology as only a means to support the country’s finance and accounting facilities, and data processing.with an emphasis on processing and not on contents. The computer penetration per capita both in China and India in the area of small office/home office (soho) is still not significant compared to the population of those two countries. Telecommunication still remains as a major issue in both China and India. If information is to be made available to a wide population over China and India, appropriate technology infrastructure should be made available to access global information through the Internet.

  23. Education and training. The work force in developing countries, like developed countries, is changing from the labor-intensive to knowledge-based. In developed countries, surveys have shown that the usage of Internet is associated with the level of education. The same applies in developing countries. For this, attention should be paid to improve the literacy rate. It is the responsibility of the government, central, state and local, learning institutions and civic associations to work together to increase the literacy rate in developing countries. Only through this, everyone in the country can compete globally to access and disseminate information. In this context, the training of information professionals should be taken seriously and be given high priority. The trained information professionals are more effective in acquiring, organizing and disseminating information within the country and abroad. The trained information professionals can not only educate the masses taking advantage of the Internet but can also share through disseminating the country’s rich information all over the globe through "cyberspace" adding value to the global information sector.

  24. The information revolution is real and an information economy has already emerged accelerating changes in economies and societies. In this economy, information is crucial and is the central resource and basis for competition. The Internet will assist in development as follows: a) assessing the information capacity of the country and in determining user needs, organizing information, synthesizing information and providing an open access to internal information as well as external information; b) disseminating information to meet the needs of the private sector and public sectors including the daily information needs of the general public; and c) assisting in the exchange of information at various levels. For this, there is also an urgency to train information professionals to support information infrastructure and information management.

  25. The world has moved towards information led economy that has penetrated all sectors. To this end, the role of government in the appropriate utilization of Internet is vital. First, it influences the social changes and economic patterns transforming from labor-intensive to knowledge based society. Second, it defines public and private sector relationships and opens up the market for creation and strengthening of private information sector. Third, it redefines telecommunication policies to brake monopoly and to encourage a healthy competition among international vendors and indigenous vendors. Last but not the least, the Internet is capable of building partnerships in the country with public sector, local communities, NGOs, public and international organizations.

  26. In conclusion, there is no single solution that can be uniformly applied to all situations in developing countries. Each business case needs to be evaluated and customized to meet individual needs of a country. Priorities are to be sorted out depending upon the available resources. Indigenous resources are to be harnessed and resources including funding from international organizations are to be tapped. The Internet has a formidable task in developing countries: in lobbying for more government support and budget allocation; in mobilizing support among the specialized ministries, universities, and industries for producing information and managing information; and to influence policy makers and information purveyors to promote the Internet for the country’s development.


  1. The World Bank Atlas 1996. Washington D.C., The World Bank, 1996.
  2. MIDS Press Release: New data on the size of the Internet and the Matrix, http://www.mids.org/mids/pressbig.html
  3. Hanna, Nagy, Information Technology in World Bank Lending: increasing the development and development impact, (World Bank Discussion paper 120) 1991.
  4. John, M., Third World Faces "Information Poverty," CD News Bank Comprehensive, Reuters America Inc., Oct.11, 1995.
  5. G-7 countries include Canada, France Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and the United States
  6. Jacobson, T. L. (1994), The Electronic Publishing Revolution is not "Global", Journal of American Society for Information Science, 45 (10): 745-752.
  7. The World Bank Atlas 1996. Washington D.C., The World Bank, 1996.
  8. Sherry, A. (1995), the East is wired, Far Eastern Economic Review, June, 15.
  9. Gartner Group Latest Report, Information Industry in Asia and Pacific is Catching Up and will Become a Main Player in the 21st Century. China Infoworld, July 29, 1996, Edition 41.
  10. Xiaoying Dong, The Development and Management of Secondary Information Systems and Services in China, International Information & Library Review, (1995) 27, 183-194.
  11. Sources at the Indian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ge, Weimin, Internet in China: the State of Art and Perspectives, China Computerworld, September 9, 1996.
  15. ERNET to Academic and Research Community. Brochure 1995.
  16. Discussion with Dr. S. Ramakrishnan, Head, Information Infrastructure Division, Department of Electronic, Government of India, New Delhi.
  17. Ibid.