Bahrain Big on the Net

Researchers are predicting big things for the small country of Bahrain. With only one ISP, the country has the second highest online penetration rate in the region at more than 22 percent, and Bahrain is poised for more growth, particularly in the e-government sector.

Internet usage – which was first introduced to the small country in 1995 – is expected to reach 32 percent penetration by 2005, according to Madar Research Group. Comparatively, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which comprises seven emirates, currently boasts almost 28 percent penetration while Europe is at 24 percent. Other Internet penetration rates in Gulf Corporation Council Region (GCC) countries include Kuwait at less than 9 percent, and Saudi Arabia at less than 7 percent.

Bahrain leads the Gulf Corporation Council Region GCC in PC penetration at almost 16 percent, followed by the UAE (roughly 14 percent), Kuwait (almost 12 percent), and Saudi Arabia (over 6 percent).

Bahrain’s rank of 16 on the 2003 Index of Economic Freedom – making it the most economically free country in this region – coupled with the high Internet penetration offers enormous potential for e-government and e-commerce initiatives, and the country plans to spend $150 million to $200 million on establishing an advanced online government system by 2005.

Madar found that the majority (49 percent) of the 37 main government sites in Bahrain – planned to be integrated into one interface – are published in English, while 48 percent are bilingual English/Arabic, and 3 percent are published in Arabic only. A key goal for the e-government initiative is to develop more Arabic pages since it is spoken by more than 70 percent of the population.

While broadband isn’t widely available yet, Arab Advisors Group projects 14 percent ADSL usage by 2006, resulting in higher Internet involvement and development. The country already has a strong online presence, according to the research firm, with a significant e-business structure.

Hala Baqain, an Arab Advisors Group analyst, comments on the country’s online business development: “E-commerce has a foothold in Bahrain. While it is relatively still new to the region, Bahrain, coupled with a few other countries in the region has a somewhat advanced e-commerce market.”

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