Yesterday Tim Berners-Lee, one of the pioneers and “inventors" of the World Wide Web, launched a new report called the Web Index. Prepared by Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation, the report investigates the global state of Web connectivity and the political and social impact of the Web in 61 countries all over the world.

The report uses six criteria to rank nations on overall access and impact: the presence of connectivity infrastructure, the presence of institutional infrastructure including education, laws and censorship, availability of relevant content, penetration and use of the Web, political impact, and social and economic impact.

British computer scientist and the inventor of World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee. Photo: AFP

The Web Index is an interesting and somewhat meaningful way to look at the state of the global Web. Usually, usage data is analysed along two separate lines. On the one hand, analysts often look at pure penetration data and look at how that can be a barometer for the quality of local governance and infrastructure. Also, penetration data is cherished by technology entrepreneurs trying to justify their funding requests.

Simultaneously, and increasingly, yet another group of analysts have begun to look at the political, social and economic impact of this connectivity. From North Africa to India, governments are slowly beginning to realize the formidable power of the Internet to mobilize dissent. Most of them are reacting fearfully.

The Web Index combines both analyses and helps to convey the message that both these aspects of the Web are important: reach and impact. Access alone is insufficient to leverage the power of the Web. Berners-Lee says that almost one-third of all countries provide access, but then impose restrictions.

The report paints a picture of nations in a quandary. Greater access to the Internet is now synonymous with a liberal government. But that is still a relatively test to clear compared with the second one: keeping this access unfettered.

Can governments ever get the balance right on Internet access and restrictions? Tell us at views@livemint.com

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