The transformational nature of ICT: are we taking advantage of it?
An overview of the latest report published by the Broadband Commission examining the extent to which national broadband plans reflect the transformation potential of ICT in addressing a broad range of societal issues and countries’ longer term sustainability.
Industry experts widely agree that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and most notably the broadband Internet aspect, can be an important driver of a country’s economic and social development. A number of studies have been conducted on the economic impact of broadband, and the World Bank has concluded that
… in low- and middle-income countries every 10 percentage point increase in broadband penetration accelerates economic growth by 1.38 percentage points—more than in high-income countries and more than for other telecommunications services.
However, although policy makers worldwide have acknowledged how vital ICTs are to their economies, a report published by the Broadband Commission this week suggests that National Broadband Plans do not reflect the transformative role broadband and ICT can play in addressing a broad range of developmental imperatives. Hence this post highlights key finding of that report and includes the Commission’s recommendations to countries to increase Internet broadband’s ability to better address those imperatives.
Key findings of the report
In its report, Transformational Solutions for 2015 and Beyond, the Broadband Commission examined the national broadband plans of 134 countries. Figure 1 highlights the countries in the Caribbean/CARICOM region that the Commission reported have National Broadband Plans (NBPs).
It highlighted that the Broadband Commission was established in response to the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s call to step up UN efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the stated deadline of 2015 (Source: Broadband Commission). Hence to that end, the Commission has set five ICT-related targets, which we here at ICT Pulse have been tracking since 2011. However, while not diminishing the importance of the MDGs, but recognising that 2015 fast approaching and the world is experiencing some diverse challenges (such as weak governance, climate change, lack of jobs for youth, ageing and gender inequality), there has been a growing emphasis on preparing a post-2015 sustainable development agenda.
Hence, based on the posture that ICTs can significantly improve a broad range of social and economic issues, for the countries that had prepared NBPs, the Broadband Commission reviewed their content to determine the extent to which those plans acknowledged the link between ICTs and those issues. Figure 1 presents the key findings.
From the graph above, and as noted by the Commission, most countries have recognised ICT’s impact on infrastructure, education and governance, but considerably fewer countries have considered its ability to improve matters related to gender and youth, along with accessibility and people with disabilities. The report also noted that although 75% of countries had included health as an area ICT can also influence,
…child and maternal health (MDGs 4 and 5) were barely mentioned, indicating a need to raise awareness of the considerable potential for broadband and ICT to enhance such healthcare systems, strengthen primary health systems and build foundations for addressing non-communicable diseases, including mental health.
The report also highlights NBP best practice from countries such as Japan, Mexico, the Philippines and Sweden, which “demonstrate advanced integration of socio-economic elements, tackling all issues covered in the analysis conducted by the secretariat of the Broadband Commission” (Source: Broadband Commission).
In light of the current state of ICT worldwide, and again emphasising the transformational potential of ICTs and broadband Internet to a address a broad range of societal issues, the Commission has made the following 10 recommendations that governments should undertake in order the better harness ICTs and realise improved longer term sustainability:
1. Make ICT and high speed broadband universally available at affordable cost for all.
2. Ensure that ICT and broadband are embedded in all of the universal goals and national targets to be defined as part of the Post-2015 global development agenda to fully capture transformative, sustainable solutions.
3. Deploy national development policies and plans to actively drive cross-sector integration of economic and social outcomes deliverable and scalable through ICT and broadband.
4. Create a streamlined and enabling regulatory environment for the broadband era that accelerates removal of barriers to market entry for broadband ICT uptake.
5. Provide consumer incentives and harness government procurement to drive demand and stimulate private sector innovation and investment.
6. Twin broadband innovation and investment with sustainable multi-stakeholder business models to capitalize on the transformative potential of universal ICT
7. Drive the game-changing potential of mobile broadband through the optimized use of radio- electrical frequency spectrum for universal ICT for development penetration
8. Promote the utilization of global standards to enable the harmonization and interoperability of ICT and broadband-enabled services and applications, putting special emphasis on affordability and accessibility.
9. Establish a comprehensive monitoring framework for broadband deployment and robust accountability mechanisms to track development progress via industry-wide broadband ICT metrics and indicators.
10. Develop appropriate solutions to maximize resource mobilization, innovation and investment in broadband for both developed and developing countries.
This recent report by the Broadband Commission has been quite revealing in how countries truly perceive the role ICT can, and as result should, play in their economies. To varying degrees, the NBPs include some social and economic elements, but their treatment might be superficial at best, based on what might be perceived as some glaring omissions in the topics and issues identified.
It is also disappointing to note that there are Caribbean countries that still do not have an approved and publicly available NBP. Many of those countries have realised considerable success in liberalising and introducing competition in their telecoms sectors. More importantly, as has occurred in countries worldwide, the focus has shifted from solely voice-related infrastructure and services, to data – more specifically the Internet, which can support a variety of services including voice, data, and video.
However, countries might still be of the view that the systems and requirements for broadband Internet and ICT can be addressed satisfactorily in currently existing telecoms framework. Unfortunately, that position might essentially be underpinning the Broadband Commission’s findings: countries may still not fully understand how ICTs can help them with critical developmental imperatives and longer term sustainability, and as a result, they have not been able to include comprehensive discourse in their policies.
Image credit: Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot (FreedigitalPhotos.net)