06 November 2003
Information Technologies Critical to Achieving Development Goals
U.S. diplomat says WSIS will focus on development
(The following article by Ambassador David A. Gross, U.S. coordinator
for International Communications and Information Policy, appears
in the International Information Program Electronic Journal "The
Evolving Internet" issued in November 2003. This article and the
rest of the journal may be viewed on the Web at: http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itgic/1103/ijge/ijge1103.htm.
No republication restrictions.)
The Digital Dimension of Development: A Strategic Approach
By Ambassador David Gross
(A top U.S. diplomat says the freedom to innovate, create, and
share ideas is critical to development. He describes how the U.S.
government is utilizing information and communications technology
to achieve development goals.)
"In the new century, growth will be based on information and opportunity.
Information drives markets, ensures a rapid reaction to health
crises like SARS, and brings new entrepreneurial opportunities
to societies....The keys to prosperity in an information economy
are education, individual creativity, and an environment of political
and economic freedom. An environment of economic and political
freedom is the sina qua non for the kind of progress we are talking
-- Secretary of State Colin L.Powell before the World Economic
June 22, 2003
Over the past decade, breathtaking advances in information and
communications technology (ICT) have changed the way we live, learn,
and do business.
Whether it is responding more rapidly to health crises like SARS
(severe acute respiratory syndrome), delivering education to the
underserved, increasing government transparency, or creating new
forms of commerce, technology is transforming our world.
ICT has become the new tool for achieving economic and social
development. In fact, a growing global consensus has emerged in
recent years that information-based technologies are fundamental
to meeting basic development objectives.
The future prosperity and well being of all nations, including
the United States, now depend in part on our ability to access
and use these new tools effectively.
For much of the world, however, that remains an elusive goal.
The number of Internet users in the world today exceeds 500 million
but some 40 percent of that number live in the United States. Over
the past 10 years, global telephone penetration rates have doubled,
but there are still more telephone landlines in New York City's
borough of Manhattan than in all of Africa. On the other hand,
technology is dramatically changing things almost everywhere --
for example, there are now many more wireless phones in Africa
than traditional landline phones.
World Summit on the Information Society
The upcoming United Nations World Summit on the Information Society
(WSIS), scheduled for December 10-12 in Geneva, will focus precisely
on these challenges.
The summit, the latest in a series of U.N. summits focused on
development, will be attended by more than 50 heads of state and
government from around the world. A second phase of the summit
will be held in Tunis, November 16-18, 2005. Leaders from business,
civil society, and international organizations are contributing
to preparations for both phases.
The summit's mission is to outline a clear vision and a concrete
plan for putting ICT into the service of development.
What considerations should guide the Summit's work?
Development begins with freedom. The freedom to innovate, the
freedom to create, and the freedom to share ideas with people around
the world are the foundation of a global, inclusive information
society. Our overriding vision for the information society is one
that expands political and economic freedom by offering our citizens
the opportunities to access and utilize information to better their
More specifically, we believe success in making freedom possible
and crafting an ICT-for-development agenda depends on three fundamental
A Strategic Approach
First, we believe countries should focus on creating a domestic
policy environment that encourages privatization, competition,
and liberalization, and that protects intellectual property.
Private investment is by far the largest source of funds for the
development, deployment, maintenance, and modernization of the
world's communications and information networks and facilities.
Public policies that do not actively invite such investment simply
Around the world, there are encouraging signs that rules favoring
competition are paying big dividends. In Uganda, for example, a
price war broke out last year in the country's competitive telecommunications
sector. Costs per minute for telephone calls tumbled and some firms
scrapped fees. The result has been more opportunities for entrepreneurs
and cheaper rates for all users.
Second, it is critical to build human capacity. Users must have
the ability to effectively use ICT tools. Without adequate education
and training, infrastructure investments will yield little.
Teachers, school children, health professionals, citizens, and
business people must have the knowledge needed to take full advantage
of distance learning, e-healthcare, e-government, and e-business
To be used effectively, ICT tools also must be adapted to local
needs. Local content that reflects local culture and is in the
language of the users' choosing is vital to sustaining the effective
use of ICT. The U.S. government believes such content should be
At the same time, content restrictions must be avoided. Uncensored
print and broadcast media provide independent and objective information
and offer a vehicle for citizens to openly and freely express their
opinions and ideas.
Artificial barriers that unnecessarily restrict the free flow
of information and news are the enemies of innovation, retard the
creation of knowledge, and inhibit the exchange of ideas that are
necessary for people to improve their lives.
The realization of the many "digital opportunities" that ICT tools
make possible depends on access to information. Electronic government,
for example, can increase government transparency, accountability,
and accessibility and lead to better development decisions as long
as governments are prepared to share information with their citizens.
Third, users must be able to use ICT with confidence if the economic
and social benefits of these technologies are to be achieved. Network
security ICT tools and networks can never be made invulnerable
to attack. But countries can protect their ICT infrastructure by
adopting effective substantive and procedural laws.
Companies, consumers, and citizens can contribute as well by raising
awareness and implementing widely recognized network security guidelines
compiled by the United States and its partners in the Organization
for Economic Cooperation and Development. Together we can create
a global culture of network security that protects all users, no
matter where they live.
In addition to creating the right policy environment, building
human capacity, and protecting networks, governments also must
avoid erecting new hurdles that will undermine efforts to harness
ICT to development goals.
Whether it is weakening intellectual property protections, limiting
press freedoms, or injecting governments unnecessarily into the
technical management of the Internet, such misguided steps can
quickly reduce choice, stifle innovation and democracy, and raise
Partnerships for Development
The U.S. government's involvement in WSIS is only one aspect of
our commitment to using ICT to foster development. Over the years,
many of our assistance programs have incorporated ICT to achieve
economic and social goals.
The Digital Freedom Initiative (DFI) is one of the leading examples
of the U.S. government's (USG's) commitment to using the latest
tools to achieve longstanding development goals. The program builds
on previous USG initiatives, including the Leland Initiative, which
was launched in 1996, and the Internet for Economic Development,
which was launched in 1999.
The DFI promotes the use of ICT by entrepreneurs and small businesses
in developing countries and leverages existing infrastructure to
improve access to local, regional, and global markets. It also
assists countries in creating a pro-competition policy and regulatory
environment that will help entrepreneurship blossom.
The pilot program was announced in March 2003 at a White House
ceremony and was first launched in Senegal. At the October 20-21
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Meeting in Bangkok,
President Bush announced that Peru and Indonesia would join the
Over the next five years as many as a dozen countries may be invited
to join the initiative.
The U.S. government advances ICT-for-development through numerous
other programs. These include:
-- Literally hundreds of individual U.S. Agency for International
Development projects that use ICT to address health, education,
and capacity issues;
-- State Department-sponsored "e-logistics" workshops that provide
practical real-world advice to developing country business owners,
especially small and middle size enterprises eager to improve productivity
and expand into new markets;
-- Regulatory and technical training programs sponsored by the
U.S. Telecommunications Training Institute, which, over the past
20 years, has graduated more than 6,200 ICT professionals from
163 developing countries; and,
-- A $30 million Internet Access and Training Program (IATP) that
develops Internet skills and computer knowledge among diverse populations
in Eurasia while promoting the free flow of information and ideas.
Whether it is these programs, a new initiative to promote the
spread of wireless technologies, or efforts to raise awareness
about the value of "electronic government," all our ICT-for-development
programs rest on the building blocks outlined above.
We believe that these building blocks can help all countries achieve
their digital progress and prosperity agendas, thereby helping
the children and generations to come.