ICTs and Inclusive Sustainable Development- Digital Divide(s)

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) play a crucial role in working towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The term digital divide refers to “the gap that exists between those with access to new technologies and those without” due to inequality in access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) (NTIA).

The Missing Link, also known as the Maitland Report, was published in January 1985 and “drew international attention to the huge imbalance in telephone access between developed and developing countries and concluded that this imbalance was intolerable.” Most notably, this report “underlined the direct correlation between the availability of, and access to, telecommunication infrastructure and a country’s economic growth, and it proposed concrete solutions to fix this missing link. The report advocates for an “expanded world telecommunications network” which would benefit both developing and developed countries. It outlines how this expanded network would increase the flow of information, trade, and make the world a better and safer place (NTIA).    

In 1999, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, released a report titled Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide. The NTIA is responsible for advising the President on policy issues regarding telecommunications and information. Falling Through the Net identified the digital divide as “one of America’s leading economic and civil issues.”

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) took place in two phases- the first in Geneva in 2003 and the second in Tunis in 2005. The first phase sought to “develop and foster a clear statement of political will and take concrete steps to establish the foundations for an Information Society for all,” whilst the second phase sought to put the plan that was developed in Geneva into motion. This Summit demonstrates the understanding amongst the international community that the digital divide is an issue and needs to be addressed.

The digital divide that still exists today is a Grand Challenge of inclusive sustainable development. Given the capacity that ICTs have to influence inclusive and sustainable development, it is imperative that we address this Grand Challenge of the digital divide so that the capacity that ICTs have to assist in affecting positive change can be realized. In order to meet the goals of the 2015-2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, information and communication technologies need to be available for all. Therefore, we need to close the digital divide, and increase equality in access to ICTs.