ICTs in Sustainable Development

Information and communications technology, ICT, combines information technology (IT) with telecommunications. The idea of ICT is fluid, constantly changing with the new adaptations and creations in the technological and communications fields. The global interest in ICTs sparked in 1998 when the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) called for the United Nations to hold a summit for world leaders to come together and discuss the up and coming information society and ICTs. This conference was called the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and was held in two phases: the first in 2003 and the second in 2005. In 2015, WSIS+10 took place, a conference that marked 10 years since the original conference and discussed progress and what still needs to happen.

ICTs play a large role in development today and have the potential to have a larger role in years to come. ICTs make every day life more efficient and easier. Radios, computers, and cellphones are just a few of the many ICTs that are a part of daily life for many people. However, there is a significant portion of the population, both in the USA and globally, that do not have this access. This “digital” divide is something that hinders development in many parts of the world. The large goal of WSIS was to develop a framework to combat the digital divide between nations. One of the earlier arguments of this divide was brought forth in the ITU’s “Maitland Commission Report,” highlighting the disparities in telephone access between nations. This continued with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) report “Falling through the Net,” which highlights internet access between individuals in the United States. The former was published in 1982 while the latter in 1995. These two reports were some of the many that set the stage for WSIS.

What if the internet just shut off tomorrow? What would happen? Chaos. Many people depend on the internet, whether for watching movies to sending emails to publishing articles. What these people do not realize is the amount of people that have never seen or used the internet. This is the digital divide that WSIS set out to solve. The outcomes of WSIS+10 highlight the need for a multistakeholder approach to this problem, arguing that the only way a solution can occur is through a variety of partnerships. We still have a long way to go, but often the recognition and acknowledgement of the problem is a huge step forward. We have made that first step and some baby steps after with the WSIS conferences.

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