A large percentage of national governments around the world have Web sites, but only a minority of people with Internet access use them, according to a report issued this week by the United Nations. The report, entitled "E-Government at the Crossroads," shows that 173 out of the United Nation's 191 members had Web sites in 2003, but only 20 percent of people who use the Internet visit government online, according to the Associated Press, which summarized the report.

"Only a few governments have opted to use e-government applications for transactional services or networking, and even fewer use it to support genuine participation of citizens in politics," it said, according to AP.

The United States led the rankings of countries based on the amount of information, services and products offered over the Internet, combined with the infrastructure -- telephones, computers and Internet connections -- needed to access them. Sweden ranked second followed by Australia, Denmark, Great Britain, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Germany and Finland. A report issued by Accenture earlier this year ranked Canada as the most advanced country for e-government.

According to AP, the report stated that most Americans who use government Web sites get tourism information, do research for school or work, download government forms or get information on services. When it comes to electronic participation and willingness to interact with citizens over the Internet, Great Britain beat the United States for the top position.

Overall, only 15 governments around the world accept online comments on public policy issues and only 33 allow transactions, such as filing forms or paying fees. At least 60 percent of all e-government projects in developing countries fail and about half waste some taxpayer money.

"Because of the high rate of failure in specific e-government projects in developed as well as developing nations, bricks-and-mortar public services need to be maintained even as digital applications are increasing," the report said, according to AP.

Only 18 countries, mainly in Africa, remain completely offline.

Copies of the report can be ordered from the United Nations.

Tod Newcombe  |  Senior Editor

With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.