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Comparing Countries’ Digital Readiness During the Pandemic

May 28, 2020

The digitization of business has long been a key feature of advancing economies, but the COVID-19 pandemic is making this transition more than just an asset. It’s now a vital building block for a flexible and socially distant economy; however, countries had virtually no time to prepare.

“Almost overnight, the coronavirus was upon us,” explained Bhaskar Chakravorti,dean of global business and director of Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context. “And everybody—aside from our heroes on the front lines of the public health response systems, those preparing food in restaurants, working in grocery stores, pharmacies, sanitation—became locked away in the digital economy,”

He said countries are experiencing “the purest test imaginable of the Internet.” But who’s passing? Chakravorti and the Digital Planet team sought to answer that question and determine which countries were most ready for social distancing.

In the report “How Countries Around the World are Prepared to Work in a Socially Distant Mode Using Digital Technologies”, they measure nations on a host of variables including mobile broadband costs, gender inclusion in Internet access, and 4G download speed to determine the answer. Their findings point to six countries as some of the most prepared: South Korea, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Germany, and the United States.

Each country received a scaled “score” for each variable, which is composed of several indicators. Learn more about six of the variables used in the report:

Digital Public Services

The digital public services metric is composed of six indicators of a government’s ability to digitally serve citizens, similar to the concept of “e-government.” Some examples of those indicators are whether the country has a digital ID system (PDF, 242 KB) or is able to electronically pay citizens. Essentially, how well is the government able to function while remaining socially distant? The United States lags behind its peers on this metric but remains just above the overall median. Countries like Norway and Denmark rank among the top nations globally.

digital public services score chart

Go to a tabular version of data about digital readiness.

Broadband Affordability

Broadband affordability values not only low-cost fixed broadband services but also financially accessible mobile broadband and a healthy level of market competition. All six countries highlighted here generally score lower in this category. The report notes that the United States has insufficient competition in the broadband provider market, resulting in some of the highest broadband costs in the world—about $61 a month. And the “digital divide” between rural and urban areas means that only one in five Americans living in a rural area have an alternative to their current provider. Meanwhile, broadband costs in Denmark average about $33 a month, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Brand affordability chart

Go to a tabular version of data about digital readiness.

Inclusive Access to the Internet

As people are asked to work from home, it’s worth investigating whether everyone has equitable access to the resources needed to work remotely. Inclusive Internet covers a range of accessibility metrics: geography, gender, and class, to name a few. Using data from The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU), the Digital Planet team found that Sweden performed the best in this area overall. For the six countries shown below, South Korea leads the pack while Germany scores the lowest.

Go to a tabular version of data about digital readiness.

Resilience of the Internet Infrastructure

Access to the Internet is also dependent on the Internet’s infrastructure. This variable considers the average 4G download speed during peak traffic. How resilient is it to a sudden influx of users? Do speeds hold up? For example, streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ and Apple TV Plus are lowering their streaming quality to help manage strained systems in Europe during the pandemic. And as of March 22, Internet traffic in the United States was up 18 percent from last year.

Go to a tabular version of data about digital readiness.

Proliferation of Digital Payments

The ability to make safe and secure digital payments is vital when other options are no longer available. In the wake of the pandemic, more shoppers are flocking to online retail spaces for necessities like food and toiletries in addition to books and movies. The Wall Street Journal reports that e-commerce providers are experiencing challenges handling the sudden influx of purchasers.

Go to a tabular version of data about digital readiness.

Ease of Doing Digital Business (EDDB)

The Ease of Doing Digital Business (EDDB) score is The Fletcher School’s technology-forward response to the World Bank’s annual Doing Business ranking.

The Digital Planet team used some of the same components of the EDDB in the social distancing report to determine the robustness of essential digital platforms needed for remote work. Tools like Zoom and Skype are vital in helping workers continue to seamlessly exchange information, but the EDDB score also considers government policy, Internet and media freedoms, and the ease of online freelancing, among other metrics. 

The original report notes that South Korea does well in areas relevant to social distancing: high Internet speeds, mobile broadband coverage, and consumer sophistication. But the EDDB report highlights areas where South Korea could improve: internet freedoms, censorship and improved data accessibility regulations.

Go to a tabular version of data about digital readiness.

How Do the Countries Compare Across All Variables?

Although the research shows South Korea, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Germany, and the United States as among the six most prepared countries to lift lockdown, each country’s performance across each measure varies. The visualization below shows how they perform relative to each other, for each of the variables discussed here.

The United States ranks first among six countries (South Korea, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Germany, and the United States) for the e-commerce, digital media, sharing economy, and online freelance variables. However, it ranks last for digital public services and fifth in Internet infrastructure resilience. South Korea ranks highest for inclusive internet but last for all the variables in which the United States ranks first. Denmark ranks first in broadband affordability; Norway, first for digital public services and digital payments; and Germany, first for Internet infrastructure resilience.

The following section contains tabular data from the graphics in this post.

Digital Readiness Scores

CountryInclusive InternetBroadband AffordabilityDigital Public ServicesInternet ResilienceDigital Payments
South Korea1.000.050.760.721.43
United States0.770.580.310.481.39
New Zealand0.72-0.180.400.931.02

Source: Digital Planet, The Fletcher School at Tufts University. (2020). IDEA 2030: Imagining a Digital Economy for All. Medford, MA: The Fletcher School.

Ease of Doing Digital Business Scores

CountryOverallE-CommerceSharing EconomyOnline FreelanceDigital Media
South Korea2.863.052.512.842.75
United States3.603.623.793.403.62
New Zealand3.183.323.053.302.97

Source: Digital Planet, The Fletcher School at Tufts University. 2019. Ease of Doing Digital Business (EDBB) 2019: Which Countries Expedite Entry, Growth, and Exit of Technology-Based Businesses? Medford, MA: The Fletcher School.

Citation for this content: The online Master of Global Business Administration (GBA) from The Fletcher School at Tufts University.