By Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) - Sweden is the most effective at using the Internet to improve people's lives, ahead of the United States and Britain, according to a global survey launched by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.

The World Wide Web Foundation's Web Index measures the economic, social and political impact of the Internet, ranking 61 countries on criteria ranging from the proportion of people online to the amount of useful content available.

Berners-Lee said the survey filled a need for uniform and publicly available data that allowed comparisons between countries and identified areas for improvement.

"At a base level, (we are asking) are people actually connected? Have they got something like a phone on which they can access the Web?," he said in an interview on Wednesday.

"On the medium level, there is the content. At the top, is (the Internet) really affecting people's lives? Can you get a job on the Internet? Are you using it for health, for education? Is it affecting the way you run the country?"

Internet access was still a luxury in many parts of the world, he said. Only one in three people used the Web globally and only one in six in Africa.

"The high price of connectivity is stopping billions of people from achieving their rights to knowledge and participation," he said. "Costs have got to come down dramatically."

Seven of the bottom 10 countries in the survey were in Africa, reflecting low levels of penetration. Zimbabwe was in second-last place, below Burkino Faso.

Bottom-ranked Yemen scored lowest in institutional infrastructure, including censorship, and in the impact of the Internet on business, economic, health, education and social activities.

Berners-Lee said almost 30 percent of the countries covered by the index faced moderate to severe government restrictions on access to websites, while about half faced increasing threats to press freedom.

"The Web is a global conversation," he said. "Growing suppression of free speech, both online and offline, is possibly the single biggest challenge to the future of the Web."

The top five countries on the index were:

1. Sweden

2. United States

3. Britain

4. Canada

5. Finland

The bottom five were:

57. Ethiopia

58. Benin

59. Burkina Faso

60. Zimbabwe

61. Yemen

The full index is available at www.thewebindex.org.

(Editing by David Cowell)

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    South Korea has long boasted some of the world's fastest and most accessible Internet. <a href="http://news.cnet.com/2300-17938_105-10012951-5.html" target="_hplink">More than 94 percent of South Koreans</a> have high-speed connections. In addition, the South Korean government has pledged to give its citizens access to 1 Gigabit per second Internet by the end of this year -- or <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/22/technology/22iht-broadband22.html" target="_hplink">more than 200 times faster than the average household in the United States</a>. "South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do," he said during his <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2011" target="_hplink">2011 State of the Union address</a>.

  • Finland

    In 2010, Finland became the first country in the world to make broadband access a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/14/finland-broadband-access_n_320481.html" target="_hplink">legal right for all citizens</a>. That right: every one of the country's 5.3 million people will have guaranteed access to a high-speed Internet connection. Meanwhile, in the United States, about 19 million people have no access to high-speed Internet where they live. Finland isn't stopping there. It plans to make lightning-fast 100-megabit broadband service a legal right by the end of 2015.

  • Sweden

    Swedish broadband is twice as fast and costs one-third the price of broadband in the U.S., <a href="http://newamerica.net/publications/policy/price_of_the_pipe" target="_hplink">according to a study by the New America Foundation</a>. In 2007, a 75-year-old woman from central Sweden <a href="http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&ved=0CDwQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fslashdot.org%2Fstory%2F07%2F07%2F12%2F1236231%2Fworlds-fastest-broadband-connection-40-gbps&ei=l3RGUOzxDMjn0QGY3YDwCw&usg=AFQjCNEwTvCABgII17xzH-oyvMmMRVf0VQ" target="_hplink">made headlines</a> when she was given the world's fastest internet connection. She could download a full high-definition DVD in just two seconds.

  • Japan

    Japanese has some of the cheapest connections in the world,<a href="http://www.oecd.org/internet/broadbandandtelecom/oecdbroadbandportal.htm" target="_hplink"> according to the OECD</a>. Japan's government has offered companies generous tax incentives to invest in fiber-optic cables. "The Japanese think long-term," a technology consultant told <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/03/business/worldbusiness/03broadband.html?pagewanted=print" target="_hplink">The New York Times in 2007</a>. "If they think they will benefit in 100 years, they will invest for their grandkids. There's a bit of national pride we don't see in the West."

  • France

    "Consumer broadband prices in France are now among the most affordable in the world," <a href="http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/sites/cyber.law.harvard.edu/files/Berkman_Center_Broadband_Final_Report-Country_Overviews_15Feb2010.pdf" target="_hplink">according to a study</a> by Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. The study attributed the low prices to regulations that allow rival Internet providers to share access to broadband infrastructure. France is also one of several countries that have declared Internet access "<a href="http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,525993,00.html" target="_hplink">a basic human right</a>."