A guide to Internet metrics and measures | #mediadev | DW | 27.10.2015
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A guide to Internet metrics and measures

Media development workers trying to measure Internet activity in a country face a complex task. DW Akademie's Lena Nitsche has prepared a useful guide to the key metrics and measures of the web, and where to find them.

Evaluating the Internet, a regular practice for media development workers, is a multi-step process. Many people forget that measuring Internet penetration is just one part of the evaluation – but a qualitative assessment of the web, including an analysis of control and Internet activity, is essential. The number of organizations and initiatives providing metrics, measures, indices and reports about the status of the web is huge. This is an attempt to provide a structured overview of selected metrics and measures of the Internet.

An overview of different metrics, projects and organizations involved in measuring the Internet is given in this research project by the Harvard University’s Berkman Center or in these links provided by the Internet Society.


An analysis should start with the physical layer of the Internet and should answer questions about access, price, speed and the architecture of the web. Metrics to consider are, for example, fiber optic cables in a country, IP address distribution, the number of Internet hosts, Internet penetration rates, prices and speeds.

1. ITU International Telecommunications Union

The ITU (International Telecommunications Union) is the UN specialized agency for ICTs which provides the largest set of data and ICT statistics worldwide. The specialized statistics division collects ICT data from national telecommunication/ICT ministries and regulatory authorities as well as household data from national statistical offices. Data include, for example, data on the fixed-telephone network, mobile-cellular services, Internet/broadband, traffic and prices of ICT services. In addition to the data, global, regional and thematic reports are published which give insights into countries or themes such as mobile or gender. The ICT Eye project offers a neat visualization of the collected data.

2. OECD Broadband Portal

The OECD broadband portal provides access to a range of broadband-related statistics gathered by the OECD. The data provided include various telecommunications-related metrics such as broadband subscribers, prices, operator revenues and speed. The OECD broadband speed tests by country show the official measurements of actual network broadband speed. Alongside reports and the biennial publication Communications Outlook, the OECD broadband map visualizes broadband statistics in OECD countries. The data comprise structured surveys of businesses and consumers and cover all OECD member countries.

3. GSMA – Mobile for development

The GSM Association (GSMA, or Groupe Speciale Mobile Association) is an association of mobile operators and companies which supports the promotion of the GSM mobile telephone system. The GSMA also has a Mobile for Development (M4D) division, which aims to strengthen innovators in the Global South serving marginalized consumer segments, in order to achieve positive socio-economic change through mobile technologies. GSMA presents different sets of primary and secondary data. It lists Organizations, Products and Services, Countries, Sectors, Network and Coverage per country and per region. In addition, it presents data in the following categories: Infrastructure, m-Health, m-Agriculture, Mobile Learning & Education, and Mobile Money. The GSMA regularly sums up its findings in reports and studies such as the Digital Inclusion Report.


Access is just one step in connecting to the Internet. Access to content is increasingly regulated by both democratic and authoritarian regimes. Efforts to regulate include takedowns, filtering, DDOS and malware attacks, legal restrictions and self-censorship. A few initiatives are helping to gather information on censorship and filtering worldwide, such as Alkasir, the Open Net Initiative or the Open Observatory for Network Interference (OONI). Reporters Without Borders maintains a list of imprisoned netizens.

4. Internet Monitor by the Berkman Center

The Internet Monitor is an initiative of the Berkman Center at Harvard University, launched in September 2015, which aims to analyze and describe the means of control and Internet activity worldwide. It summarizes a variety of sources, such as data by the ITU, demographic data by the UN or by the Open Net Initiative in three categories: Access, Control and Activity. The result is a ranking of the status of the Internet in countries worldwide. In addition to the data, the Internet Monitor Initiative provides research on specific topics and regions.

Online Activity

An assessment is also needed of how practices of censoring and surveillance impact users’ online activity. This is the most challenging category to measure, as it requires a qualitative assessment of online activity in the political, social and economic spheres, as well as its impact on further human development.

One method is to analyze activity data on a platform level, such as social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, or through search data, clicks, purchases or downloads on websites. In many cases, these datasets can be accessed at the websites or platforms themselves, or through services from analytic companies such as Alexa and ComScore.

4. The Web Index

Established by the inventor of the web, Tim Berners Lee, the World Wide Web Foundation aims to enhance participation in and connect people to the web with more than 160 partner organizations worldwide. Its Web Index is a qualitative measure of the Internet, including metrics such as privacy, censorship, gender-based violence, equality and, for the first time, net neutrality in more than 86 countries worldwide. Data are collected through a survey and through secondary data from other sources. A score is given for each country, allowing it to be ranked. The Web Index is produced annually, and aims to show the economic, social and political benefits of the Internet.

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