ICTs and Sustainable Development

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are of growing importance for countries and their sustainable development, largely for their efficient and extensive capabilities in spreading information. Moreover, development, as Amartya Sen describes it, encompasses the differences in what people can and can’t do and the freedoms they have and those they lack. Initially ICTs included mostly telecommunications, but as technologies progressed the term grew to include computers, e-mail, and internet. ICTs continue to widen as even newer technologies are created and shared among the masses. The overall goal of US telecommunications policy was to provide “universal service” so that all American have affordable access to telecommunications. The ITU (International Telecommunication Union) is a specialized agency of the United Nations, focused on information and communication technologies (ICTs). The Maitland Commission, chaired by Donald Maitland and sponsored by the ITU, was assigned the task of determining and overcoming obstacles impeding the expansion of global telecommunications. In 1985, the Maitland Commission’s Report illustrated a direct correlation between a country’s economic growth and its access to telecommunication infrastructure. The report revealed there were huge imbalances between developed and developing countries’ access to telephones and communication infrastructure. This gap in access to telecommunications became known as the “missing link.”

Access to ICTs naturally expands freedoms and possibilities for others and thus also the potential for development. Consequently, ICTs are a crucial aspect for the fulfillment of international development initiatives. One example of a framework extremely reliant on and devoted to the efficient use of ICTs, is the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). WSIS was endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 2001, as a two phase conference devoted to support further development of information society through the efficient use of ICTs. The first phase of WSIS took place in Geneva in 2003, and established the foundations for an “Information Society for all.” The second phase was held in Tunis in 2005, to implement Geneva’s Plan of Action and to determine solutions and arrangements in the fields of internet governance and financing mechanisms (WSIS Declaration). The ITU acted as the major leader  throughout the process. Then in 2014, WSIS+10 was hosted in Geneva as an extended version of the WSIS Forums. The purpose of this high-level meeting was to review the progress of WSIS mandates, address subsequent gaps and challenges, and plan for how to proceed beyond 2015 (when the MDGs expired). ICTs are also a key factor in achieving each of the SDGs as they are necessary in recording, monitoring, and sharing the progress and challenges of each indicator, target, and goal. For example, with rapidly advancing technologies and endless digital networks and resources, ICTs have great potential in producing quality education (SDG #4). Industrialization and innovation (SDG #9) are also highly dependent on ICTs as they enable enhanced collaboration, productivity, and infrastructure systems.