ICTs for the SDGs: economic agendas

group-smallThe ITU is preparing a new book, provisionally to be entitled “ICT4SDGs: Economic Growth, Innovation and
Job Creation” in advance of the WTDC meeting in Buenos Aires in October 2017 http://www.itu.int/net/events/eventdetails.asp… . This has been explored in some detail over the last two days at a fascinating discussion convened in Geneva.

sdg-groupI have been invited to lead on a 6,000 word chapter, provisionally entitled “Sustainability in Development: Critical Elements” that has an initial summary as follows: “the chapter identifies how ICTs engage with the sustainability agenda and the various elements of the ecosystem (such as: education, finance/capital, infrastructure, policy, market, culture/environment, opportunities) and the stakeholders that are indispensable for ensuring resilient and sustainable development activities in developing countries in spite of some chronic shortages coupled with fast changing and fluid situations that can negatively hamper the efforts”.

I want this chapter very much to be a collective, bottom-up effort, and am exploring various collective ways of generating content – although this is hugely difficult given the tight word limit! At this stage, it would be great to receive suggestions as to (a) what content the chapter should focus on, and (b) examples of case studies of successes and failures with respect to the use of ICTs for sustainable development. Please share any thoughts with me – before the end of September!

For those who may be unfamiliar with my own critical comments on the linkages between ICTs and the SDG agenda do see https://unwin.wordpress.com/…/icts-and-the-failure-of-the-…/, and on the abuse of the term ecosystem https://unwin.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/icts-and-ecosystems/ . Rest assured, though, that the chapter for the ITU will reflect very different perspectives, and I hope that it will indeed represent the interests and concerns of the wider ICT4D community.



Filed under ICT4D

5 responses to “ICTs for the SDGs: economic agendas

  1. At a conference in Geneva (WSIS late 2003?) I talked to Ernest Wilson from the University of Maryland about the Petersberg Prize awarded through the Development Gateway. We decided to nominate Portugal Telecom for their development (in 1995) of the software necessary for prepaid GSM accounts. Our proposal went to the final round, but the award went to Muhammed Yunus in the end.

    I still think that the prepaid scratch cards was a much more significant innovation than Grameen Village phones. It soon became a global standard, enabling the rapid growth of GSM, paving the way for mobile banking and countless other mobile services, and – ironically – eliminated the justification for the shared village phones.

    I want to start with this 12 year old story because it it is a reminder of how the ICT4D community always have downplayed GSM as the driving force behind ICT in development. In my view, GSM’s financial success enabled the telecom networks on which the Internet is delivered. The arrival of smart phones changed everything once again, and they are now by far the most used type of computer. There are now 2 millon apps on Apple and and a similar number on Google Play. In India, the networks have recently stopped sales of 3G phones, and this trend is spreading around the world. By 2018, 3G and LTE services will be available to a very large part of Africa’s rural population. With 2 million apps to choose from, 1000 new per day, people will have no trouble finding use for their ICT devices.

    But the ICT4D people continue in the same tracks as before, looking for specific uses, worrying about inequality, gender and education philosophies as if nothing had changed from when desktop PCs were the only thing. They frown on the 2 million apps, observing that 99.9% are pretty useless, but ignore that 0.1% is still 2000 useful apps. Google Docs is for free, as is Wikipedia.

    Item 9c) in the SDG: “Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020”, is not a goal, it is a process, totally in the hands of the users and the network providers. Governments are for the most part standing in the way of the expansion. An example from Ghana is that the regulator waited to December 2015 to issue 4G licences, and at the same time restricts the installation of new towers. In reality, however, the transition to 4G/LTE is of course unstoppable, because the mutual benefits to users and operators are so great. Ghana’s regulator will collect about 200 million USD for the licences, a huge amount for the authority, but insignificant for the operators compared with a ten year revenue stream. My point here is that ICT capacity in the world is provided and paid for by the people and the networks themselves, thus making the 9(c) “goal” into a passive measure.

    The effects of ICT on development are generic, not specific. Since access to ICTs is driven by economic and technical processes, it goes on independently of Government wishes and influences. If the development community would acknowledge this as a fact, if they would start seeing ICT as an instrument for development, rather than trying to make goals for it, the confusion would hopefully disappear.

  2. Just another thought when I’m at it. The use of the term “affordability” is often used as a known concept that needs no qualification. In the telecom market, each customer weighs the cost of a phone and associated services against their price. Those who continue to top up their accounts find it affordable, and those who rather spend their money on other things – with better subjective value for money – don’t. Affordability varies over time and with each person. There is nothing strange with that.

    But when governments, researchers and the development community at large express as their wish that ICT services ought to be more affordable, this simple logic is ignored, and instead enters a quasi-philosophical concept with the same name. It is not helpful. Since almost all ICT services today are bought and sold in the market without any subsidies from the Governments, the only reasonable position is to leave the buyers and sellers alone. The Government can and should regulate the market by ensuring that there is healthy competition between the providers. The effect of good regulation is to push the overall price levels down, making each transaction a little more affordable. Some Governments do this, but some don’t (especially those where the President’s family has a major stake in the networks).

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