The Importance of Universally Accessible ICTs in Development

In an increasingly globalized world, Information and communications technology (ICTs) occupy an ever growing role in terms of development. While the importance of ICTs in everyday life has grown dramatically as the technology has modernizes and become more powerful, disparities exist in regards to who has access to these ICTs. In 1985, the Independent Commission for Worldwide Telecommunications Development, headed by Donald Maitland, first identified the existence of a disparity in terms of access to ICTs. The Maitland Commission Report identified an enormous imbalance in telephone access globally, largely between developed and developing countries. The commission asserted the existence of telecommunication infrastructure directly correlates with economic growth, underscoring the need to incorporate ICTs promotion and infrastructure into the larger paradigm surrounding development. While the Maitland Report was certainly influential as the first publication to highlight this disparity, The Falling Through the Net 1995 Report published by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the US Department of Commerce identified the existence of inequality of access to ICTs within an individual countries population. The survey identified large barriers to access in rural areas, and in central cities. The largest barrier to access identified in the report was poverty, with the nations poorest households in both rural and urban areas experiencing a lack of access to telephones, computers, and modems. In addition to poverty, other factors in determining access to ICTs are race and age. In the report, racial minorities, the youngest Americans, and older people all experienced barriers to access to ICTs.

Both the Maitland Report, as well as the Falling Through the Net reports highlight the need for focused efforts to expand access to ICTs on an international development scale, as well as domestically. In the years since the reports were published, the technologies themselves have changed, but the need for the expansion of access has only increased. While ICTs have certainly become more accessible since 1985, the consequences for access have become more severe for those who do not have access. In a digital age, crucial education services, employment opportunities, healthcare information, political participation processes, and countless other avenues for participation in economies rely on access to ICTs. Reducing inequality in development is inextricably linked to the establishment of accessible ICTs and inclusive access of ICTs should be a priority in both domestic and international development policy.

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Universally Accessible ICTs in Development

  1. The falling through the net also looks at the rural-urban divide in telecommunications. When looking at developing countries, telecommunications is widely stratified amongst rural and urban areas. ICTs can also work to bridge this gap.

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  2. I couldn’t agree more that today ICTs play a vital role in development. Building inclusive ICTs is not only in itself a development challenge, it can also facilitate other development challenges, such as inclusive education and inclusive global governance. The Maintland Report points out that privatization is a solution to bridge the gap in access to telecommunication. But is privatization necessarily the right answer for ICTs development everywhere?

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