Entitlement Theory and Access to Communication

Amartya Sen, author of “Development as Freedom,” first coined the term of entitlement theory in his paper “exchange Entitlements” as a way to describe the causes of famine. What he found was that famines often are not due to a lack of food, but rather a lack of access to the food that the country has available. In class, we discussed the importance of ICTs in the development framework and how people living in different societies and living in different areas of the world don’t have the same access to communications resources as people who live in large concentrated urban areas.

In the Maitland Commission Report, the ITU presented the idea of a “missing link” in the age of communication as there is still a large percentage of people that live completely isolated from the rest of the world due to a lack of access to telephone lines, internet and other forms of ICTs. One of the reasons that these populations remain without access to these technologies is because companies in charge of installing the infrastructure do not see any benefit in spending time and resources to provide this technology to marginalized communities. Another issue is that often, even if the technology is available to the communities, they are unable to afford the fees for using the internet or cellular reception. How then can these populations be given access to these technological entitlements?

One way to address this issue is through government intervention to ensure all people get access to the ICTs. By providing subsidies to companies providing the communications infrastructure, it gives private enterprises an additional motive to provide the services to marginalized communities. Another way to provide the service is through government acquisition of the technology and provide it themselves. However, involving the government in providing ICTs to the population leads to other challenges such as a loss in efficiency due to additional bureaucratic transaction costs, an increase in prices as the government tries to compensate for the higher costs, and problems with the quality of the good provided due to lack of competition.

In order to find the perfect combination of public and private that would allow marginalized communities to access ICTs, there are several conditions that need to be met that Amartya Sen defined. The first condition is that the highest level of efficiency is achieved in democratic governments. This is because democratic institutions provide greater stability and are subject to the interests of the voters, and therefore have a responsibility towards the population. There are cases in countries where the government intervened in the distribution of ICTs in order to spike the prices for personal gain or for military spending, but in the case of democratic institutions, there are checks and balances that keep that from happening.

A second condition is to ensure perfect competition and a breadth in the market. Having a large diversity of suppliers that can compete on an even playing field would cause prices of ICTs to go down and would also decrease the prices of the infrastructure, therefore making it more beneficial to provide the good to the most consumers possible, making it more affordable and more available to people in marginalized communities.

Finally, in order to set these things in motion, it is essential to raise awareness of the importance of bridging the “missing link” because through awareness, the government can act and start implementing strategies to provide greater access to the rest of the population living outside of concentrated rural areas.

In a quickly modernizing society where technological progress increases exponentially with each passing year, it is essential to make sure that no one gets left behind. ICTs are an essential part of development work, and without this access to information and communication, marginalized societies will be perpetually trying to catch up with the progress in the rest of the world and will never be able to achieve the same levels of development.