The Global Spread of the Internet: The Role of International Diffusion Pressures in Technology Adoption


Work data:

Type of work: Working Paper


Digital Divide | e-Readiness | Information Society | Politics and Political Science


What factors have promoted and retarded the spread of the internet globally? Much as other technologies, the internet has diffused unevenly across countries. The main proposition is that its spread is neither purely economic nor entirely domestic. International diffusion pressures exert a powerful influence. The adoption of new technology depends on domestic policy, and this in turn depends on the choices that political leaders make about rules governing new technologies. I examine the impact of international diffusion pressures on political leaders, testing the role of five types of such pressures. The distribution of capabilities globally may shape the spread of the internet, as dominant power(s) may directly or indirectly coerce others into adopting. Patterns of adoption may also be shaped by competitive pressures from the world market. Technological change especially may depend on network externalities, involving the number of adopters already in existence. Learning from other countries or from participating in international organizations may stimulate adoption. Finally, countries may simply copy the policies and hence the adoption patterns of other countries with whom they share sociological similarities. Data from about 190 countries since 1990 shows that diffusion pressures matter, even when controlling for domestic factors. Economic competition and sociological emulation play consistently important roles in affecting the spread of the internet.