Because of the growing importance and unique character of the Internet, which provides a global platform for both data and (increasingly) voice services, the assessment of network access should be carried out in the context of Internet access, rather than access to either voice or data. The significance of the Internet will only continue to grow in terms of global trade and communication.
Internet Availability. Internet access is enhanced by competition among Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that operate locally. The range of services offered, number of dial-up lines (which helps determine ISP capacity) and transmission capacity all influence an ISP's usefulness. The availability of leased lines is particularly important in making the Internet available to the business community. Finally, in many communities in the developing world, public access is essential to making the Internet available to greater numbers of individuals and firms. Telecenters, Internet cafes and community information centers assume great importance in making the Internet available to those who do not have personal access at home, school, work or elsewhere.
Internet Affordability. The prices which businesses and individual consumers pay for Internet access are in most cases determined by a combination of fees for basic telephony and ISP services. In communities where the sum of ISP and telephony fees is prohibitively high, a disincentive to network usage exists, and access is curtailed. Pricing packages can be structured in ways that are conducive to Internet usage - per minute or hourly pricing (unlike flat rate pricing) for both Internet and telephone service can limit users' time online and therefore inhibit the use of the network for many activities such as electronic commerce (e-commerce). The provision of tiered pricing packages can improve the affordability for many subscribers by allowing them to purchase only what they need.
Network Speed and Quality. The available bandwidth, both for individuals' local access and for a community's connection to the Internet backbone, determines the number of users and types of online activities the network can support. Bandwidth-intensive activities, such as large file transfers or video streaming, may be unavailable to communities with constrained access to the network. The quality of the network, including servers, also determines its usage. High numbers of mainline faults, poor connections, dropped connections and packet loss can render any network useless or operationally sub-optimal, thus discouraging use of and investment in new technologies.
Hardware and Software. A vibrant market with numerous hardware and software options can encourage more specialized usage of the network, including ICT solutions that are tailored to local needs. More widespread retail and wholesale distribution channels for both hardware and software increase opportunities to use the network within the community. The prices of hardware and software are particularly important in the developing country context, where generally low-income levels cannot support high-priced consumer items.
Service and Support. A strong customer service orientation is important in determining the success of network deployment. Long waiting periods for installation and repair and a lack of support services by telephone companies and Internet providers pose major obstacles to Readiness.The quality and number of technical support professionals are essential in maintaining the network and providing service.