ICTs and Inclusive Sustainable Development

Can you imagine living in a world without access to a telephone or the internet? Neither can I.  We live in a completely interconnected, globalized world where communication across boundaries is a key aspect of development.  However, not everyone has equal access to the tools needed to allow this communication to happen.  Reports such as The International Telecommunication Union’s, “The Missing Link”and the NTIA’s “Falling through the Net” shed light on this issue of limited ICT availability in rural and poor communities.  Continue reading

ICTs and Sustainable Development

ICTs play such a critical role globally that economies, human health and safety, and social welfare are tied to them inseparably. Conversely, lacking access to ICTs can jeopardize the quality of issues that are tied to, isolating and confining individuals to limited options. While the innovations in technology have made ICTs more adaptable to different environments and have a diverse enough number of operators that their reach has spread even to sparsely populated and rural areas, there are still swaths of people in developed and developing countries alike that don’t have sufficient access to ICTs. Continue reading

ICTS and Inclusive Sustainable Development: GIS for Participatory Planning

Inclusive sustainable development requires the utilization of information and  communication technologies (ICTS). ICTS can help support the achievement of the 2030 Agenda to deliver improvement and innovation with health, education, business development, and participatory planning processes. Governments will need to focus planning processes, policies, and strategies to address the implications of rapid urbanization on already marginalized communities. Goal 11 of the SDGs aims to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. Goal 11 aims is to ensure individual rights in urban centers are fully met, with universal access to basic services, energy, housing, transportation, and more. Collaborative and inclusive urban planning is necessary to ensure future individual rights are not violated. Technological innovations can be used to trace inequities in city planning efforts, such as GIS software, which I argue is a sub-category of the ICT field.

Geographic information systems (GIS) provide software programs that are “designed to capture, manage, analyze, and display all forms of geographically referenced information.” These types of technologies can supplement ArcGIS is a mapping and analytic platform designed by Esri, a global leader in GIS technology. One of the main applications of GIS is urban planning, utilizing spatial databases, and analysis and modeling tools (Arc GIS) Furthermore, GIS planning solutions can be used for sustainable development initiatives such as improving the quality of life and portraying data in a visual context for easier decision making processes.

GIS services offer governments ability to readily access maps and capitalize on preexisting data to streamline knowledge accumulation needed for strategic decision making such as planning urban centers and implementing projects where multistakeholder collaboration is key to success. GIS technologies have also aided in community based planning processes that allow planners and citizens to test alternative development scenarios to determine future impacts. Citizen participation is improved through GIS technologies and provides mechanisms to further communicative planning. Communicative planning emphasizes the importance of multistakeholder dialogues for decentralized planning processes. Patsy Healey (1996) a prominent scholar in the field of communicative planning asserts the importance of decentralized and communicative planning processes:

“Knowledge is not reformulated but is specifically created anew in our communication through exchanging perceptions and understanding and through drawing on the stock of life experience and previously consolidated cultural and moral knowledge available to participants. We cannot, therefore, predefine a set of tasks that planning must address, since these must be specifically discovered, learnt about, and understood through intercommunicative processes.”

Examining potential consequences of urban planning is essential and GIS technologies allow for alternatives to be evaluated before actual implementation. Converging informational communication technology with GIS software can be beneficial for urban planners and bottom-up grassroots approaches for inclusive development.


ICTs and Sustainable Development

We live in an interconnected globalized world where information and communication are key components to development. However, not everyone has equal access to these communications resources and therefore there are communities around the world that get left out of global progress. Reports such as “The Missing Link” and “Falling through the Net” shed light on this issue, but what can be done to provide equal access to communications technologies to all?

There are several components to this issue, one of which lies in who is responsible for providing the ICTs. The two main actors at play are the public and private sectors. In situations where the public sector provides the good, it allows for the resource to be easily accessible to the entire population and generally offers low prices that are more affordable to the masses. However, for this to work, you need a stable democratic institute because in situations where this isn’t the case, the government often operates as a monopoly on the good and manipulates prices to fund other, inequitable projects such as war financing or personal profits. In the case where the private sector provides the resource, it can be provided efficiently and at the highest quality, but due to the profit seeking nature of private institutions, they will only provide the resource in areas that minimize costs and maximize benefits, leaving rural communities uncovered.

Other issues are more technical in nature, such as the physical cost of extending the ICT networks and laying down sufficient wire to cover the entire population. The technology is still relatively expensive, but with research and development in ICTs, this technology can quickly evolve and become less expensive. Currently, CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg is investing in solar drones that would fly around the world in fleets permanently, providing internet access to 4 billion people worldwide who are in the dark.

Although there are still many obstacles to providing ICTs to the global population, technology improves at exponential rates and I believe that as this technology evolves, finding ways to bridge this gap will become easier.

ICTs and Sustainable Development

The spread of information and communication technology has great potential for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by essentially becoming the facilitators and enablers. By using ICT allows to accelerate human progress, upscale critical services in health, education, financial services, bridge the educational and digital divide, enhance public awareness, bring innovation, connectivity, productivity and efficiency across many sectors. This in result will impact and develop a more knowledgeable and inclusive society. ICT particularly has the potential in enhancing access for vulnerable populations, to information, knowledge, health care and education (for example: Collabotory), which is one of the main themes of SDG- inclusivity. Understanding the importance of ICTs in achieving the global agenda the UN Member States have committed to utilizing ICTs to achieve the 2030 Agenda.

World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is a two-phase UN summit that was initially created to evolve a platform that was aimed at addressing the issues raised by information and communication technologies. It was created to discuss and bridge the global digital divide that separates rich nations from poor by spreading access to the Internet in the developing world. The goal of WSIS is to build an inclusive and development-orientated information society where everyone can access and share information. The importance of the summit is that it is a multi-stakeholder process where representatives from member states, UN bodies, international organizations, NGO’s, civil societies and private sectors can participate and discuss the new opportunities of the information technology environment and address challenges, which is an important part of an inclusive society. As these forums allow to include and hear out the marginalized groups that are inhibited from accessing these ICTs. The WSIS+10 outcome document and the UNGA Resolution produced an overall review of the implementation of the summit outcomes in 2015, and recognized the significance of the development of ICT in achieving SDGs.

The Importance of ICTs in Development

ICTs or information and communications technology play a huge role in sustainable development. The Maitland Report and the NTIA report on Falling Through the Net both highlight the struggles found in rural and poor communities when ICTs are limited are difficult to come by. The Maitland report is officially referred to as the Missing Link. This first report on ICTs focused on the fact that developing and rural communities are often missing access to reliable communications infrastructure. Submitted in 1985, the report notes the differences between developed and developing countries when it comes to access to telephones. Limited access or even no access to telephones completely hinders development in developing countries. This problem has morphed with the creation of the Internet, which is where the Falling Through the Net report comes in to play. FTTN echoes the Maitland report in the sense that there is some key factor of development that is missing between developed and developing countries.

Technology plays an important role in development, and it is key in multiple of the SDGs. For example, ICTs are a big part of advancing SDGs 4,7,9, and 11. However, ICTs could play a role in all of the SDGs. Technology allows people to communicate all over the world, and without it, developing countries and entrepreneurs there are left out of the increased global market. Even beyond telephones, the importance of the Internet cannot be denied. It is not just in rural, developing communities either, even in places like DC, where there is a community of lower income residents, there are billboards that state the importance of having Internet so that children will have it for school. Technology affects everyone, not just adults. There needs to be a global push to provide all forms of ICTs to as many people as possible.

Another important element to providing ICTs to the developing world is the World Summit on the Information Society, which took place in two parts, Geneva and Tunis. The decision to use the two cities shows the importance of the developed and the developing world when it comes to ICTs. The developed world should serve as an example to the developing world and help them build the infrastructure needed to advance their own ICTs. WSIS+10 was the outcome document from the original conference that highlighted the actions and challenges to making ICTs more accessible and inclusive to everyone in the world. ICTs are important to global development and it is crucial that they are made accessible to everyone.

How Net Neutrality is a Multi-stakeholder Internet Governance Issue

The internet is an international communications resource that allows the exchange of content between individuals across a network of devices. Because the internet has no centralized governing body, constituent networks are the ones that set the policies on internet usage. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai recently proposed a plan to kill the net neutrality laws in the US, and this proposal will be officially voted on December 14th. This plans intends to give ICT corporations the right to speed up, slow down, and even block access to content. This would violate free access to information and technology, charging people more for better access and forcing others onto cheaper, slower networks. This course of action has been met with serious contention by the American public who feel like their freedom of speech rights are being violated.

With issues such as net neutrality, it is essential to have a multi-stakeholder framework in place. By having government, the private sector, and civil society take part in the governance of the internet, it establishes a framework that prevents the control and abuse of internet access. In the case of net neutrality, it is a plan that is pushed by the lobbying groups of large communications providers and that is being reviewed by the government in order to become official legislation. However, civil societies are advocating against it and through petitions and protest, are fighting to upkeep the net neutrality. Fundamentally, the internet is a public good and a key component of the freedom of speech rights that are the foundation of a democratic institution. It is up to the government to uphold these values and ensure the well-being of the population. Through actions of civil society, the official vote for/against net neutrality can be swayed to counter the actions of the private sector that seek to make profits off of the control of content. The multi-stakeholder internet governance therefore creates a system of checks and balances in order to create a just and equitable system for internet provision in the US.

Making ICTs More Accessible

Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) are an ingrained part of today’s society, ranging from cell phones to computers to broadcast radios and more. It is impossible to live in the world without encountering an ICT in your daily life, especially in a developed country. This means that ICTs can become an extremely effective tool for battling obstacles for marginalized groups like persons with disabilities. For example, UNESCO claims that ICTs can be used in education for persons with disabilities by using them as tools to identify barriers, provide teacher training, identifying minimum standards and gaps in implementation, and more.

However, ICTs can also reinforce these barriers. This is especially due to the “Digital Divide”. The term “digital divide” refers to a difference in access based on economic and social systems in regards to ICTs. There have been several large scale projects on these divides. The first of these was the ITU sponsored Maitland Commission Report which discovered the missing link- the disparity in telecommunications access between developed and developing countries. The NTIA later published Falling Through the Net, showing the imbalance in internet access between urban and rural parts of the United States. Both concluded that these differences were intolerable and provided solutions to bridge the gap. These studies show the wide variety in digital divides and the heavier impact that marginalized communities feel such as where they live (like in these reports), their race, class, age, etc. The impact always falls the most on those already oppressed.

Because ICTs are a tool for both augmenting and breaking down widespread discrimination, access must be carefully observed for inconsistency. When reinforcement of gaps is found, concrete steps must be taken in order to limit impact. One such practical strategy can be found in the controversial McBride Commission Report, or Many Voices One World. This report advocates for the strengthening of national media to pursue democratization of communication, particularly in developing countries, in response to the imbalance in access to information. The WSIS and follow up WSIS+10 conferences also aimed to combat the digital divide between richer and poorer countries by increasing the multistakeholder process. Despite this work, digital divides still remain a rampant problem today, affecting many marginalized groups across the globe. The international community must continue to build on past work like these reports, shifting to a greater focus on what can be done in terms of practical solutions that bring affected groups to the forefront.

In 1981 UNESCO published a report written by the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems that highlighted key issues in the telecommunications industry as it related to development, in addition to other aspects of the telecommunications industry globally. This report, titled “Many Voices, One World”, has become known as the “MacBride Report” as the chairman of the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems was named Seán MacBride. Unfortunately, many of the issues highlighted in the MacBride Report continue to persist today in terms of the telecommunications industry and development, with access to reliable telecommunications being a consistent issue across the developing world.

For example, the MacBride Report notes the social good aspect of communications media, and the vehicles that convey it, has been on a steady decline, and the MacBride Report identifies market pressures and privatization as the causes of this decline. This complaint from the MacBride Report echoes the same concerns voiced today regarding modern media and media service providers when discussing ratings driven new broadcasts and the decline of print media. The MacBride Report further highlights how information has been commoditized, particularly in terms of broadcast television, yet this commoditization is in tension with the public necessity for quality information. Again, this argument is one that is continuing to play out today. The MacBride Report also notes issues regarding “lacunae and distortions in information” that lead to ill-informed, uninformed, or misinformed publics and governments. This concern rings particularly true today regarding phenomena like “fake news.” The MacBride Report even cites surveys that show the public overall is not very well informed, though the Report did not specify if the public was ill-informed, uninformed, or misinformed.

These issues, and many others, that faced telecommunications development when the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems was crafting its report persist to this day. In the United States, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has published reports detailing how some in rural and urban communities lack access to the Internet. Other international organizations have pointed out the uneven development of telecommunications technologies such as telephone access. In short, since the 1980s increased attention has been paid to uneven access to telecommunications and information technologies, but that attention has not necessarily solved the issues found in the MacBride Report.

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.