ICTs and Sustainable Development

This blog post discusses the intersection of ICTS and development.

Information and Communications Technologies (ITCs) are the physical hardware and cyber infrastructure technologies that store, retrieve, manipulate, transmit or receive information and are used by people to access/send information and/or to communicate with other people over distance. The 2030 Sustainable Development Framework says that “The spread of information and communications technology and global interconnectedness has great potential to accelerate human progress.” ICTs are mentioned under SDG 4 (quality education) as part of the goal is to provide more scholarships to persons from least developed countries for ICT programs, under goal 5 to promote women’s empowerment, under goal 9 (infrastructure) to increase ICT access and provide universal/affordable internet access to all, and under goal 17 (the partnership for the goals) using ICTS to enable technology transfer to least developed countries. There are of course, a multitude of ways in which ICTs can be used to enact the SDGs.


The concept of a “digital divide” comes indirectly from an initial 1985 International Telecommunication Union’s (UNITU) ‘Maitland’ Independent Commission for World-Wide Telecommunications Development report called “The Missing Link”. The missing link was the imbalance in telephone access between developed and developing countries, as the infrastructure for telephone connection was simply not there in many developing countries. While the initial divide was in telephone access, what is called the digital divide today has several different aspects. There is the evident divide between the those who have internet access and those who do not, as evidenced by the U.S. Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration report “Falling Through the Net”. While the divide in the NTIA report was geographical (with rural, urban minority, and native american households having less internet access), other divides exist worldwide. Equal access to the internet is limited by government censorship, network speeds (bandwidth), access to/ownership of internet connecting devices, technological competency (knowing how to use hardware or software), and language/disability accessibility barriers. Lacking access to information and communication technology leads to economic vulnerability and isolation.


Bridging this digital divide must focus on the varying ways in which internet access is restricted worldwide. Transforming national information infrastructure into global information infrastructure and bridging the divide was the focus of the ITU World Summit on the Information Society (held in two parts, Geneva 2003 and Tunis 2005). The 2003 summit produced the WSIS Declaration of Principles (DOP) and the Plan of Action (POA), and the 2005 summit produced the Tunis Commitment and Tunis Agenda for the Information Society. The DOP establishes the key principles that are guide the process of building an information society where everyone has access to ICTs, and the POA lays out somewhat broadly what should be done to execute each principle. If the DOP explains why build an inclusive information society, the POA is the first steps of how to do it.