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:
2. United States
The bottom five were:
59. Burkina Faso
The full index is available at www.thewebindex.org.
(Editing by David Cowell)