Information and Communication
This report was prepared to provide an input in UNESCO's fields of competence
to the Working Group of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology
for Development (CSTD) on Information Technology for Development and to
the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Development Study Group
1. It presents a number of views and proposals voiced in recent UNESCO-sponsored
forums concerning the challenge of Information Highways for development.
The official position of the Organization can be found in the document
entitled UNESCO and an Information Society for All referenced in
Recommended catalogue entry:
Information and Communication Technologies in Development: A UNESCO Perspective / prepared by the UNESCO Secretariat. - Paris : UNESCO, 1996. - iv, 42p. ; 30 cm. -
I - Title
II - UNESCO
The rapid development and use of information and communication technologies
is having a direct and dramatic impact on all aspects of life. The traditional
distinctions among media, publishing, telecommunications, computing and
information services are becoming blurred, and new paradigms for creation,
dissemination and exploitation of knowledge are evolving. In this transformation
from an "industrial" to an "information" society, UNESCO
has a unique intellectual and ethical mandate to make these new technologies
work for social, cultural and economic development, in the interest of
democracy and peace.
This report is a follow-up to the 1995 joint study of the International
Telecommunication Union (ITU) and UNESCO on The Right to Communicate:
At What Price?, which provided a valuable insight into the major economic
and administrative problems encountered in this changing environment. The
focus of the present report is rather on the social, cultural, ethical
and legal implications of the information revolution, with emphasis on
its impact in areas of public concern such as education, libraries, cultural
production and exchange, the media, research and environmental management.
Policy aspects of electronic media are also reviewed, for example concerning
their impact on "fair use" and copyright, "the right to
privacy", the "right of expression" and "universal
The report presents a number of experiences and proposals relevant to
efforts of public institutions, governments and other development actors
take advantage of these evolving technologies, particularly in the less-favored
developing world. It can be seen as a contribution to UNESCO's continuing
effort to promote dialogue and exchange of information on the role of information
and communication technologies in decision-making to foster economic, social
and cultural development for the benefit of all peoples and nations, without
discrimination, injustice or marginalization.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
II. TECHNOLOGY FOR DEVELOPMENT OR DEVELOPMENT FOR TECHNOLOGY?
III. KEY PRIORITY AREAS AND FUTURE POSSIBILITIES
IV. CONSTRAINTS TO REALIZING THE POTENTIAL
OF ICTs IN
Content and Interface Limitations
Ethical and Legal Constraints
Political and Institutional Constraints
Human Resource Constraints
V. ACTION NEEDED TO RELEASE THE DEVELOPMENTAL
POTENTIAL OF ICTs
Legal and Ethical Frameworks
Incentives and Subsidies
Public Domain and Public Access
Training and Research
VI. REFERENCESI. INTRODUCTION
1. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have the potential
to dramatically reshape and transform the ways in which people organize
their lives, interact with each other and participate in the various spheres
of society. These technologies form the basis for a radical shift from
industrial/post-industrial definitions of development to a new paradigm
based on the model of information societies. This shift promises to redefine
the areas of work, learning and research, leisure and entertainment, participation
2. Much has already been written about how the ICTs are positively changing
the world - the internationalization of trade and the development of a
world economic market (comprised of regional networks); the globalization
of culture and communication; the vastly expanded choices for people to
access education, political participation, health care, government services,
cultural and community activities, etc. Much has also been written on the
negative aspects of ICTs - unduly privileging the "man-machine"
relationship to the detriment of reflection, self-reliance, human relationships
and personal capacity-building; increasing the chasm between the "haves"
and "have nots"; encouragement of new types of exclusion and
of control of power; propagation of violence, pornography and hatred.
3. Such debates serve to highlight the social complexity of technology
as well as its pervasiveness throughout society and are of fundamental
concern to the intellectual mission of UNESCO. This report will attempt
to cover both the promises and the risks of ICTs, with an emphasis on their
potential to support socio-economic and cultural development.
4. One of the driving forces for the growth of ICTs is convergence among
the informatics, telecommunication and mass media technologies coupled
with the convergence of economic interests of telecommunication operators,
broadcasters, equipment and software producers, content industries and
users of ICTs. The importance of these factors for access to telematics
in developing countries was examined in detail, and corresponding strategy
proposals formulated, in a recent joint study of the International Telecommunication
Union and UNESCO (ITU and UNESCO, 1995) which served as a starting point
for the present report.
5. It is clear, however, that the new applications of ICTs evoke a whole
range of other phenomena with vast societal, cultural and ethical implications.
Although the content of the information products transiting the nascent
information highways is often seen as an extension of the traditional mass
media, these highways also offer the flexibility and individuality of access
characteristic of point-to-point telecommunication. Thus, when discussing
the critical questions such as accountability, privacy, integrity of content
and right of access, one cannot indiscriminately carry over solutions from
the worlds of traditional publishing and broadcasting where these questions
have arisen in the past. The report will draw on models from the latter
worlds, but especially will stress the importance of a shift towards enhanced
possibilities for creating, sharing and accessing information which have
vast potential to benefit society at large and the developing countries
II. TECHNOLOGY FOR DEVELOPMENT OR DEVELOPMENT
6. As in the case of previous development thrusts towards an industrial
and then towards a service society, the ICT revolution today is being overwhelmingly
driven by countries of the North and, perhaps more than ever by multinational
corporations, which are defining and negotiating the various parameters,
priorities, rules and processes of the future information society. This
is happening at three levels of decision: the Global Information Infrastructure
(GII), the National Information Infrastructure (NII) and the Local Information
7. It is important to recognize that these developments also hold profound
economic, socio-political and cultural promise for the development of peoples
of the South. The countries of the South can no longer view ICTs as only
a luxury for the rich to enjoy. This growing recognition has meant that
many developing countries are now struggling to “catch-up” with the industrialized
countries in terms of access to ICTs. The concerns of developing countries
regarding their participation in the GII and NII now bear less on whether
this should be accorded high priority, than on how to effectively
apply information technologies to development so as to reduce, rather than
widen and deepen, the gap between information "haves" and information
"have-nots". Such a strategy, however, raises several issues.
8. Until very recently, the countries of the South and their interests
have not been part of the international debate on ICTs. This situation
has begun to change as the concerns of the South have been debated at a
number of forums, including the G7 Conference on the Information Society
(Brussels, February 1995). The May 1996 Information Society and Development
Conference in Midrand, South Africa was the latest effort to effect a greater
balance in this debate. However, these discussions have tended to focus
on the each country's NII and how it can be linked up to the GII. The countries
of the South have not yet been given a serious role in the larger discussions
of setting goals and standards for the GII. Nor have they in general been
actively considering options and strategies for flexible development of
the LII. Such exclusion has strong implications for constraints to the
free flow of information, quality and relevance of information, ethics,
cultural diversity, equipment and network standards, and other important
9. The goals for developing countries and ICTs are often being framed
essentially in terms of access to technology and access to information.
It may, however, not always be true that the most critical problems confronting
us at both personal and public levels require technical solutions through
fast access to information otherwise unavailable. Neil Postman poses this
question as follows: "In Technopoly, we are driven to fill our lives
to 'access' information. For what purpose, or with what limitations, it
is not for us to ask; and we are unaccustomed to asking, since the problem
is unprecedented. The world has never before been confronted with information
glut and has hardly had time to reflect on its consequences" (Postman
1992). History has shown that just blindly chasing after access to the
latest technologies, without asking for what ends, will not allow us to
achieve many of our goals for development. The overriding questions as
countries (industrialized and developing) must be: What are our goals,
how do these goals relate to creating a better world, and how do the technologies
we pursue help achieve our goals? It is crucial that these questions
be continually raised at the local level, the national level and the global
level by developing countries.
10. Such discussions have begun to take shape at the national level
with the recognition that information must be appropriate to developmental
needs. In May 1995, for example, the Conference of Ministers of the UN
Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) directed that a highlevel working
group of African technical experts be created to deal with the role of
information, communication and knowledge in shaping an African information
society to accelerate socioeconomic development. The report from the
working group articulates an initiative for the formulation and development
of a national information and communication infrastructure (NICI) plan
in every African country. This initiative is based upon two themes intricately
related to issues of impact and access: national development challenges
such as debt management, food security, health, education, population,
job creation, industrialization, land reclamation, water, tourism and trade;
and, cooperation, linkage and partnership among African countries (UNECA
11. However, even in stating these national goals, developing countries
must be careful not to conceive of ICTs as a sort of panacea. Simply layering
these technologies on existing systems, bureaucracies and processes will
not achieve countries' development objectives. Development sectors are
all very complex and each has an underlying history. They face many problems
starting with an inability to process existing levels of information. Institutional
problems - like unmotivated and highly centralized bureaucracies which
may be weakened by paralyzing hierarchies and corruption, massive economic
disparity and various forms of social discrimination - may be even more
important and cannot be simply addressed by increased access to information.
This flag of caution is waved, not to discourage those pursuing technology
but rather to stress the framework in which new ICT applications and services
attempt to operate. There is, in addition, something quite unique and important
about these technologies. They are agents of change, which are powerful
enough to change the economic, social and cultural contexts in which they
operate. They actually present societies and individuals with the opportunity
to question fundamental assumptions and institutions, to re-think existing
approaches and mechanisms, to collectively conceptualize and generate new
ideas and community-based alternatives and even, sometimes, to catalyze
social change. Converting these opportunities into social benefits requires
that leaders not hide behind the technologies to avoid dealing with fundamental
issues but rather be willing to make very difficult decisions regarding
the application of ICTs in their contexts.
12. Global and national goals should not mask the diversity of users
and their specific needs within a country, ranging from individuals to
different social, professional and geographic settings to nongovernmental,
governmental and international organizations. The needs of these diverse
users will vary enormously, and thus, in addition to developing the Global
Information Infrastructure and the National Information Infrastructure,
it will be critical to develop the Local Information Infrastructure (LII).
ICTs provide a unique opportunity to move beyond centralized models of
planning, management and governance. In this context, access to technology
and information for the South is important but the content carried is at
least as, if not more, important. For example, an individual farmer may
have needs for very specific, locally oriented information concerning crops,
transportation and health. Access to the riches of the Library of Congress
may be of no interest at all. The reverse is likely true for researchers
working on a university campus. Therefore, efforts must be made to enable
people in developing countries to produce endogenous information and knowledge
and to filter and evaluate the information they need, rather than simply
being passive consumers of imported information. Passing to such an active
creative role is also an essential step towards full participation in the
Global Information Society with its possibilities for each nation to disseminate
and, where appropriate, profit commercially form, its intellectual competence
and cultural heritage.
13. Related to the LII is the question of which technologies countries
should invest in. Investment for access to ICTs has many dimensions. For
example, even if telecommunication costs were reduced to zero, the number
of people in the developing world accessing electronic information might
not greatly increase. Other factors, such as the cost of a computer system
or modem, the lack of electricity, physical disability, illiteracy, social
inequities or simply lack of interest can be equally constraining. And
while it is true, in a macro sense, that the cost of informatics is declining,
the implications of this decrease need to be carefully considered within
the relative purchasing power of the local user. For example, what little
disposable income that might be available to an individual in the developing
world is more likely to be spent on a US$ 15 transistor radio than
on a far more expensive computer system or satellite dish.
14. Local conditions within a country may vary enormously which implies
that different approaches should be supported. The Internet - and its counterpart
for closed user groups, often referred to as Intra-net - has emerged as
a surrogate for future information networks, yet it is by no means the
only source of electronic information. Leaders may miss important opportunities
by placing too much emphasis on the Internet and not looking at exciting
innovations in some existing technologies, such as radio, television, CDROM
and cassettes. Such "older" technologies may be more appropriate
means to satisfy many information needs in developing countries, particularly
as components of larger systems integrating different levels of technology.
15. While the immediate returns of investment in information and communication
technologies may not be readily apparent to hard-pressed administrations
concerned with squeezing the most out of limited resources, the longterm
positive impacts of a proactive strategy may be considerable. However,
within this context, developing countries still must make difficult decisions
about which sectors to invest in, and what types of ICT programmes within
those sectors to support. Providing access to ICTs for certain sectors
of society, particularly illiterate and rural populations, is a particularly
important but costly and difficult challenge. Decision makers must continually
negotiate a balance between short-term demands and long term goals. Within
a broader national perspective of co-ordinating efforts and reducing costs,
they should also seek to maximize partnerships and opportunities for sharing.
16. Each ICT (and combination of ICTs) has particular strengths and
weaknesses which may be more or less appropriate for a specific application.
In particular, one should continually ask how ICTs can be transformed from
simply serving as channels for transporting large volumes of information
into more dynamic communications and learning tools.
17. All of the above means that each developing country should adopt
investment strategies and programmes concerning ICTs which are appropriate
to the national and local situations.
18. This report seeks to examine the question of how ICTs can be used
by developing countries to achieve their development goals, particularly
in the areas of education, science and culture, and also to consider how
ICTs can be used to assist developing countries in continually rethinking
and reformulating their broader goals in these sectors. It will thus consider
applications, services and infrastructure from a generic and policy viewpoint
and will not attempt to categorize and evaluate the role of specific ICTs
(such as artificial intelligence, parallel processing or advanced data
transmission protocols). Section III argues that high priorities should
be accorded to ICTs in the core "intellectual" areas which drive
the development of telematics and which are of particular concern to UNESCO
- education, libraries, scientific research, environment, culture and mass
media. This section discusses current and future applications and priorities
of ICTs in developing countries as well as specific concerns and key issues
in these areas. Section IV discusses barriers that currently stand in the
way of realizing the potential of ICTs by developing countries and highlights
some of the creative responses that are emerging. Section V, the final
section of the report, concludes by highlighting key short-to-mid term
public policy options in relation to the GII, NII and LII that should be
considered by developing countries.
III. KEY PRIORITY AREAS AND FUTURE POSSIBILITIES
19. In this section, the need for developing countries to focus ICT
applications on certain core “intellectual” areas of development - education,
libraries, scientific research, environment, culture and mass media - is
highlighted. These sectors of public concern have a critical role in the
development process and have major needs for investment in ICTs, but are
disadvantaged by dispersed resources and shrinking public sector budgets.
They should be seen, moreover, as a potential test bed and driving force
for progress towards an Information Society in developing countries, because
they hold stores of knowledge and expertise necessary for this evolution
and because of their natural role in informing, educating and mobilizing
the public to face tomorrow's challenges. The applications and contributions
of sectors of public concern in the area of telematics were considered
in detail in a recent international study (ITU and UNESCO, 1995), which
recommends a strategy to facilitate access to telematics facilities by
these sectors involving i) consolidation of user demand, ii) cooperation
with telecommunication operators and the commercial sector, and iii) appropriate
public support in terms of investment and enabling environment.
20. Within each of these sectors, there are many choices that can be
made regarding foci for application of different technologies. For example,
within education, should one focus ICTs on higher education or primary
education? In prioritizing these choices it is important to look not only
at their direct benefit but also at their ability to create catalyzing
spill-over effects in other areas of development. Identifying these priorities
and understanding key concerns around them will be an important challenge
for leaders in developing countries.
21. Inversely, there are many concerns which apply to the sectors of
public concern as a whole, such as training of users and ICT specialists
and providing access to information to the widest possible public. These
will be summarized in the final two sections of the report.
22. The multiplicity of problems facing formal schools today are well
known. On one level, they are discussed in terms of low numbers of qualified
teachers and large numbers of students per class; inaccessibility and inflexibility
of schools and universities; outdated and irrelevant curricula and methods
of learning; and lack of quality educational materials. On another level,
there is a tremendous gap between relationships between schools and communities,
teachers and learners, and learners and learners as well as a lack of interest
in the endeavor of learning, critically thinking and reflecting. There
are few opportunities for second chances, and learning is conceived of
as a discrete activity that one only attends during the early years of
life. Very little provision exists for lifelong learning opportunities.
Many learners are not reached by the system. Today, there are 900 million
illiterates in the world and 130 million children unable to attend primary
school. Their access to education is limited by time and space, age, socio-cultural
environment, work schedules and physical or mental handicaps.
23. Distance education has been used in the formal setting to enhance
teachers' performance and learning materials. More recently, it has been
pursued as an approach for reaching populations who are not adequately
served by the formal system. However, distance education has faced several
constraints: lack of interactivity; long development cycles; lack of flexibility
of materials; insufficient support mechanisms for learners. The result
is that distance education is still often regarded as a “second class”
option by many if not most learners.
Applications of ICTs in Developing Countries
24. The main application of ICTs in education has thus far been in the
area of distance education, which has been the subject of many experiments
using various modalities in the past two decades. Historically, the application
of computer technologies to distance education has concerned primarily
computer-assisted learning (CAL), mainly through the use of stand-alone
systems. The results of CAL have been mixed, many CAL applications having
failed in the past because they were improperly conceived of as ways of
"replacing" the teacher.
25. The use of telecommunication and/or broadcasting technology, combined
with informatics where appropriate, provides possibilities for increased
spontaneity, interactivity and accessibility. Some of the most successful
efforts in use of ICTs in developing countries have been with interactive
radio instruction in the formal classroom (in this approach "interactive"
truly describes the relationship of the learners to the teacher, even through
only one-way physical communication is employed). One-way television has
been used to broadcast courses into classrooms, but this medium is limited
by lack of interactivity. Some experiments are being done with interactive
television in developing countries (generally starting with one-way video,
two-way audio), such as with in-service teacher training in India. Of the
various modes of use of telecommunication channels, audioconference and
slow-scan videoconference have been shown to be particularly useful, adding
substantial value to communications links at relatively little cost. Major
applications include tutorials and administrative support for educational
networks. The SISDIKSAT and UWIDITE projects (Indonesia and the Caribbean
respectively) show that these technologies are quite feasible and viable
in developing country situations (UNESCO 1994).
26. Most of the major successes of ICTs in education thus far have been
in specialized or higher education (including "open" universities,
teacher training, and industrial applications) where students are
more likely to be motivated, to possess special language skills and (at
least in the industrialized countries) have prior computer experience.
The growing involvement of open universities in developing countries (see
Table 1) attests to this progress. One of the major weaknesses of these
technologies has been in facilitating basic education which typically requires
more supervision, more user-friendly, culturally sensitive interfaces,
and presentation in the vernacular language. The increasing variety of
interactive media (e.g. compact disks, interactive TV and the Internet)
enlarges the scope and possibilities of self-directed learning and group
Table 1: Distance Education Universities in Developing Countries
Central Radio and TV University, China
Korean Air and Correspondence University
Sukhothai Thammathirat OU, Thailand
Allama Iqbal Open University, Pakistan
University of South Africa
National Open University of Taiwan
Indira Gandhi National Open University, India
University Nacional Abierta, Venezuela
(Brown 1992 in Willis 1994)
Priorities for the Future
27. Several opportunities are opening for ICTs in education in transforming
the learner/teacher relationship, the means of transmission of the educational
message, the production and use of educational materials, and the organization
and function of educational structures.
28. First and foremost, developing countries should accord priority
to connecting schools and universities to national and international distance
education facilities, databases, libraries, research laboratories and computing
facilities. Interactive sharing of information and ideas is critical to
the mission of education. This would involve promoting and supporting dialogue
and collaboration among teachers and researchers; between learners and
learners; between classrooms and communities.
29. Second, the use of ICTs in distance education should be actively
pursued, particularly to provide on-going learning opportunities at the
community level. In addition to being cost-effective based on new functionality,
easier access and economies of scale, ICTs will be critical in building
a culture of lifelong learning in both urban and rural areas. Through differentiation,
specificity, and better learner and teacher control, ICTs can accommodate
the individual needs of most users. It will be critical to creatively explore
how relatively expensive equipment can be made available to various needy
user communities, i.e. through centres visited by students, mobile equipment
such as computer bus classrooms, etc. In some cases improvements in existing
technologies rather than entirely "new" technologies can best
be used to meet the needs of learners. For example, the new compression
and digital transmission technologies are giving new life to "traditional"
educational television, by permitting many more channels to be broadcast
over a given bandwidth at a much lower cost per channel, and, in the case
of direct-broadcast satellite, over a wider geographic area. Efforts must
be made to create multichannel learning environments, as single media projects
have tended to fail in the past.
30. Finally, ICTs should also be used to reduce the communications and
administrative costs of educational institutions. Many institutions suffer
from managerial insufficiencies which could also be significantly improved
by the application of ICTs. Such action, if implemented properly, should
result in higher staff morale, greater understanding of the needs of students
and an enhanced ability to provide appropriate support services.
31. It is very important that these efforts to make effective use of
ICTs in education foresee the human element. Although educational technology
may enable a reduction in the teacher-to-learner ratio or in qualifications
of on-site teachers, it cannot (and in the foreseeable future should not)
replace human decisions and interaction in the educational process; specialized
teaching and support staff will still be needed, and in fact will have
to take on new responsibilities and learn new skills to serve as intermediaries
and motivators, oversee student testing, follow up on feedback, etc. As
long as learning is a human endeavor, there will always be a need for human
"teachers" in some capacity.
Key Issues And Challenges
32. Today, the ICTs afford the exciting opportunity to begin questioning
some of the basic assumptions and the choices that were predicated on them
and to re-open discussions around the nature of learning, the content of
learning and the role of facilitators and places for learning. We must
seek to use learning systems to encourage reflection, creativity, expression,
cooperation, social responsibility, democratic values, and tolerance. Learning
modes will become a diversified mixture of self-instruction, group work
and tutoring. This process will be complicated and difficult, particularly
as there are many different audiences of learners to be targeted - students,
skilled workers, general public, pre-school, primary level, secondary,
33. The solution lies essentially in the organizational, pedagogical
and cultural realms, but ICTs can have a key enhancing role if applied
correctly. The new concepts of on-line connectivity, virtual environments
and groupware methodologies can contribute to building a tradition of life-long
learning. The trend is now towards multimedia systems combining text, data,
sound, all types of image (single frame, video, 3-D) and even touch and
other senses (virtual reality). Although multimedia have mainly been successfully
applied to entertainment and to very specialized training (e.g. flight
simulators), their potential for contribution to "mainstream"
education is enormous provided that new paradigms evolve for conceiving,
developing and financing such applications. The shared presence of "virtual
communities" holds particular promise for educational applications,
but unexplored issues need to be addressed by educators, information scientists,
psychologists and even philosophers, as well as technical questions as
to how the associated new ICTs can be applied in the limitations of developing
34. The commercialization of education represents a critical challenge.
Trend analysts widely agree that "edutainment" and distance learning
are among the information products and services which will develop the
most rapidly in the next few years. But the home education software market
is now considerably bigger than the courseware market for schools , due
in large part to the higher development costs in the latter market and
the problem of teacher training (McKinsey & Company 1996). This may
continue to skew the industry towards “edutainment” products. It is important
that the market not be oriented only by industry; educators should become
involved in the courseware planning and development process so as to benefit
fully from the new opportunities. Efforts will also have to be made so
that the less profitable areas of education are not ignored. The market
must not overshadow the need for sound instructional principles and clarity
of learning goals.
35. Perhaps the major emerging challenge is that of content and of creation
of a stock of programmes which can be used locally, nationally and internationally.
But, apart from a few privileged sectors such as language teaching, informatics
training, and practical know-how (which often remain at the margin of formal
education systems), attempts at transnational use have come up against
many difficulties (language differences; disparate pedagogical methods,
diplomas and curricula; legal problems concerning the copying and use of
36. To meet these challenges, the education sector must organize itself
as a major technology customer, partner in service development, and creator
of new applications. Collaboration among various actors will be needed
to take full advantage of ICTs in education. In addition to the public
authorities whose role is essential, there are publishers, manufacturers
and broadcasting companies, telecommunication and satellite operators,
universities, large distance education organizations, libraries and documentation
centres, and research institutions. In this context, regional and international
cooperation in development and delivery of educational products and services
may be one way to reduce costs and share resources (UNESCO, Second International
Congress on Education and Informatics, 1996).
37. It is important to understand that the economic problems of distance
education technology are not limited to the costs of initial system development
and installation. Other major expenses, including those of maintenance,
training, quality control and continuing development, are also critical.
All of this implies careful planning. It is only after a system is well
established that one can normally expect to benefit from economies of scale,
either through lower cost of education or in terms of contributions to
38. With strong budgetary cutbacks in the public sector as a result
of harsh structural adjustment programmes, libraries in many developing
countries have seriously deteriorated in recent years. In some of these
countries, reasonably good networks of public libraries did exist but these
were usually based on the European model of serving leisure readers in
major towns and cities. In others, the concept of public libraries was
never very popular, and libraries were restricted to elite universities
and inaccessible to the general public. In either case, today libraries
of all types face substantial problems in many developing countries. Some
of these problems stem from a lack of funds, while others are linked to
deeper socio-cultural concerns.
39. Very few libraries exist in developing countries, particularly on
a per capita basis, and those that do exist have extremely limited
accessibility. They are extremely weak in meeting the needs of disadvantaged
and rural communities. Part of this is also due to their limited hours
and their immobile nature. The user must come to the library rather than
the library going to the user. Another problem is that they are sometimes
viewed as foreign institutions. Many have not really been culturally accepted
by communities and as a result are not really considered public centres.
40. From the viewpoint of infrastructure, libraries in developing countries
tend to have very limited access to international journals, recent books
and periodicals, audio-visual materials, etc. The materials that do exist
tend to be focused on issues and needs of industrialized countries and
lack relevance to the context and needs of local users. In addition, libraries
are confronted with limited space to store information and often lack the
proper equipment and facilities to provide useful services to users. Libraries
also suffer from insufficient numbers of staff, and existing employees
often have very low levels of training. To compound problems, libraries
are usually viewed as stand-alone entities and are not well-linked to other
institutions. They lack efficient and affordable data communication services
required to provide speedy access to local, regional and international
Applications of ICTs in Developing Countries
41. Significant efforts are already being made to use ICTs to provide
more information to libraries and to facilitate resource sharing among
them. For example, many university libraries in Africa have recently been
equipped with CD-ROM drives and have begun to make extensive use of this
medium. Initial efforts are being undertaken to network libraries to the
Internet, as access in and between countries in different geographic and
development situations is becoming recognized as increasingly important.
However, these advances have for the most part been concentrated in university-based
libraries with school, public and specialized libraries being largely excluded.
Priority Areas for the Future
42. Developing and industrialized countries should work together towards
the gradual development of a "global digital library" reaching
down to the community level, building on nascent international efforts
like the Global Information Alliance led by the International Federation
for Documentation (FID), the proposed Global Digital Library Initiative
being considered by the International Federation of Library Associations
and Institutions (IFLA) and the G7 pilot project entitled Biblioteca Universalis.
Libraries must seek to become computerized and interconnected so as to
pool their resources and provide to their clients access to immense stores
of information. Specific efforts should be made to provide practical information
sources, particularly at the community level, and to close the resource
gap by making textbooks and periodicals electronically available, especially
for schools, universities and research centres.
43. Priority should be given to providing mechanisms for the exchange
of information among existing libraries in ministries, municipalities,
universities and schools. Developing countries may also wish to seek to
automate their national libraries and make them accessible online.
ICTs, particularly telematics applications capable of good performance
over marginal communication channels, will be important in enhancing services
for information retrieval, library loan requests and electronic document
delivery. Archiving functions should also be developed and adapted to assist
with replacing paper documents. Libraries and information centres must
also seek to develop more user-friendly services, and to extend their holdings
and services in the area of audiovisual and computer-based courseware.
Library staff will require additional training as well, to adapt to new
institutional settings and employment opportunities.
44. ICTs may offer a genuine opportunity to place libraries at the service
of community development. Libraries are ideally placed to serve as public
gateways to information highways, providing as they do both access and
guidance and training to users. Libraries and information centres may be
one of the most cost-effective means for providing more people with access
to a range of ICT-based services. Furthermore, libraries will be needed
to play a critical role in mediating ICTs and helping the public to overcome
a learning threshold in accessing information (UNESCO and an Information
Society for All, 1996).
45. One interesting option in promoting and building on the role of
libraries would be for developing countries to consider supporting community
telecentres offering library, information and media access, social services
like education and telemedicine and forums for participatory democracy,
as well as personal communication facilities, based on the cooperative
organization of these services and on enabling "last-mile" communication
Key Issues and Challenges
46. The demands on libraries and on organizations that support libraries
are expected to increase in the coming years. They must become increasingly
involved in electronic information provision as their clientele in government,
research and the general public develops ever more sophisticated needs.
For example, the demand for electronic interlibrary loan services is expected
to increase as the international standard protocol for this application
(ISO 10161) is implemented on a wide scale. The demand for electronic information
retrieval is also expanding rapidly (ITU and UNESCO, 1995). Libraries will
have to meet these challenges or find themselves rapidly antiquated. Obviously,
one of the main issues facing libraries in this context will be that of
securing funds which will be needed to invest in equipment and networking
47. However, it should be clear that digitalizing libraries for timely
and comprehensive access to information does not necessarily mean replacing
books. The increasing popularity of networks will not decrease demand for
books, and in fact has caused a dramatic increase in use of paper for print-outs
and copying. Computer screens are less easy to read than hard copy and
cause documented physiological difficulties; continued R & D will be
needed to encourage the development of appropriate paperless applications.
48. A real issue that stands in the way of universal access to knowledge
is acceptance of libraries by communities as centres of community interaction.
ICTs can facilitate or obstruct this process depending on the way they
are introduced and used and on the support and involvement of the communities
49. Success in meeting these challenges will depend to a large degree
on ability to train and retrain a large pool of information specialists
who are versed in the development and management of ICT based services.
The creation of needed educational programmes and institutions for this
purpose constitutes a major challenge in itself, which will in turn require
the effective application ICTs in the educational process as discussed
50. The realm of culture encompasses many different areas. Several problems
have existed in trying to preserve cultural heritage such as monuments,
manuscripts, artifacts and music. These again stem, in part, from deteriorating
resources. Another critical issue is the lack of regional or local access
to cultural sites and forms of expression within developing countries and
internationally. There is often more information available on a local culture
outside of the country than inside. In addition, many forms of cultural
expression still remain elitist, in the sense that very few people have
access to them. There is also a lack of cultural information available
on marginalized populations (for example, many tribes in Africa or India)
and on the contributions of certain groups (such as women) within those
51. The other major issue related to culture that is emerging and is
the subject of heated debate concerns the role of ICTs, particularly in
cultural globalization and homogenization of popular culture. The expansion
and concentration of television, radio and film production in a relatively
small number of countries and enterprises tends to favor conformity and
standardization at the expense of specificity, adding to the concern about
the loss of native culture. There is fear that many essential elements
including language, folklore, oral histories, traditions, and foods may
be lost in the process. Many leaders are concerned by the lack of
cultural diversity and the dominance of North American culture. However,
although film and television programming from the United States of America
flood the world's airways, such material also comes from other sources.
For example, a recent survey of programmes produced in India revealed that
more than 70 percent of these were considered violent by the people surveyed.
In another survey of nine Asian countries, all with a fairly high level
of local programming, at least 60 percent were perceived to be violent.
A linked apprehension is the raising of unrealizable expectations among
people who are widely exposed to the lifestyles and languages of the affluent,
while the pace of material progress in their own environment is painfully
slow (de Cuellar, 1995).
52. Although some of these same concerns apply to the Internet and other
internationally accessible communication networks, information highways
also provide a new model by giving any individual or community with access
to a microcomputer and a telephone line vast possibilities to share in
the world's diverse cultures and to create and disseminate cultural works.
Applications of ICTs in Developing Countries
53. Multimedia technologies such as CD-ROM already offer tremendous
possibilities for the promotion and sharing of physical and non-physical
cultural heritage, as well as opening up vast new horizons for experimental
art. Such applications are expanding the capability of museums and galleries
to allow clients in even the most remote parts of the world to have visual
access to the world's most valued treasures. On the whole, these technologies
have an immense potential for enhancing cultural identities, promoting
intercultural dialogue and stimulating artistic creativity.
54. Building on a growing stock of electronic cultural products, organizations
responsible for access to cultural and heritage materials have wide-ranging
potential uses for telematics. For example, those concerned with works
of art use data communications, throughout the world, to access catalogues
and databases which may offer sophisticated image retrieval (including
the possibilities of 3D representation). Communication among cultural institutions
is receiving initial emphasis, with an increasing number of telematics
applications open to specialized researchers and, more and more frequently
through the Internet and particularly the World Wide Web, to the public
55. Although some developing countries, such as Egypt, have made substantial
progress in this area, others lag behind in the recognition that the digital
representation of their national music, art, folklore and monuments provides
the essential raw material for their participation and visibility in the
evolving Information Society, with its inseparable economic and cultural
Priority Areas for the Future
56. Developing countries should focus on the use of ICTs for both cultural
preservation and development. Governments should enhance capabilities of
cultural organizations to engage in electronic preservation and documentation
of manuscripts and artifacts. They should also seek to increase the accessibility
of museums, rare manuscripts and artifacts to researchers and the general
public through the development of cultural ICT products. There should be
a strong priority on establishing electronic communication and innovative
telematics applications involving cultural sites, repositories of culture
such as libraries and museums, and centres of research and learning. Maximum
impact can achieved through the establishment of effective and interconnected
specialized networks which build on and encourage synergy among institutions
with complementary programmes and cultural and historical affinities.
57. In addition, developing countries must make strong efforts to support
the development of indigenous content by the diverse communities that comprise
a country or region with a view to building greater pluralism and tolerance.
Production of content by local creators will be critical to promoting cultural
and linguistic diversity and to the development of national cultural industries.
Appropriate ICT infrastructures and applications can make important contributions
in these areas.
Key Issues and Challenges
58. Technology offers substantial possibilities to facilitate the development
of local content and specialized services to cater for diverse cultural
needs. These advantages are, however, counterbalanced by a danger that
groups of media users may prefer cultural specificity to diversity and
dialogue, and thus run the risk of shutting themselves into a cultural
ghetto. At the same time, it must be kept in mind that many small or even
medium-sized countries do not have the critical mass, in either economic
or demographic terms, to guarantee adequate local and national content
and may thus largely depend on imported programmes and services.
59. In addition, efforts will have to be made to protect the rights
of local creators while at the same time ensuring the availability of low
cost cultural services for individuals and society. There is considerable
concern about ensuring protection for parts of works made available in
digital form. A transmission right is widely seen as necessary to protect
the access of digitalized works over electronic networks. Both individual
and collective rights management will be important in this context, depending
not only on the preferences of the parties concerned, but also on the increasingly
diverse nature of the distribution channels (UNESCO, Symposium on Copyright
and Communication, 1996).
60. Another challenge lies with the commercial forces unleashed by ICTs.
Despite adaptations to local markets, the increasing sophistication and
concentration of communication technologies can encourage the standardization
of content. When audience ratings are paramount, creative possibilities
may be severely restricted. New electronic networks must seek to transmit
the widest possible variety of cultural viewpoints together with information
which may not be commercially profitable or may interest only minority
The mass media
61. There is a growing awareness that pluralism of information, together
with a diversity of production and distribution, are prerequisites for
as well as indicators of a properly functioning democracy. A strong national
and local system of mass media - journalists, radio and TV, newspapers
and news services, etc. - is essential to this mission. However, most developing
countries lack a strong tradition of diversified mass media. In most developing
countries today, there is a dearth of access to diverse channels of information
which serves to limit citizens' ability establish informed opinions and
therefore participate in public affairs. Community media are particularly
constrained in many countries.
62. In addition, the mass media that do exist in developing countries
today are hampered in carrying out their roles of informing society and
stimulating thinking about issues. Often, the problems of limited media
sources are exacerbated by biases (e.g. political control) of the media.
Information tends to be highly concentrated in urban centres and to have
a national rather than a community focus, due in part to insufficient awareness
of and access to ICTs at the local level. News agencies are confronted
with high costs for telecommunications combined with obsolete technologies
and software, which have serious implications not only for the quality
of information that is being reported and but also for the very survival
of the agencies. This situation also serves to restrict access to and maintain
tighter control over mass media.
Applications of ICTs in Developing Countries
63. Several developing countries have already adopted major technological
innovations such as electronic editing and generation of images in TV programme
production, as well as computerized and communication-assisted publishing
of the printed press. The evolution of computer technology over the past
fifty years has led the press in many developing countries to progressively
automate production chains, from the submission and editing of articles,
through the transmission and management of photographs, to the formatting
and printing of the final product; this has in turn resulted in increased
use of ICT equipment and telecommunication services (Hopkinson 1996). Newspapers
and press agencies use telecommunications to disseminate current news bulletins
and compile news databases which are often made available to the public
through database hosts. It should be remembered that press bulletins still
provide most of the substantive content of written or spoken media, and
their acquisition thus represents a major expense for these media. Press
organizations are traditionally heavy users of leased telex (teletype)
and voice grade lines for data transfer, but are making ever greater use
of computer data networks, including the Internet.
64. Independent broadcasting services provide a venue for people's immediate
interests. Direct and indirect public aid for programme production still
need to be strengthened, however, so that the local context can be reflected.
This is where community radio and television come into the picture. Subject
to availability of a modicum of funding, political commitment and infrastructure,
community media are developing to complement public and commercial broadcasting.
For example, peasants and miners in Bolivia have set up their own radio
stations, broadcasting in Quechua, Aymara, or Tupi-Guarani. In Australia,
Aborigines and Torres Strai Islanders have pressed, on the basis of their
own successful experience in community broadcasting, for the establishment
of an Indigenous Broadcasting Corporation funded by the government (de
Cuellar, 1995). Independent radio stations in developing countries are
beginning to make use of the Internet for exchange of information and to
ensure dissemination of programming to the world at large, including when
faced with local restrictions on broadcasting.
65. Portable video transmission terminals are being used more and more
by major television organizations for news gathering from remote sites.
This technology is currently unfortunately out of reach for most organizations
in developing countries. At present, digital radio and television technology
is still mainly limited to broadcasting studios, but some programme acquisition
and exchange applications are already operational. Digital direct broadcast
satellites will soon be widely available.
66. For the purpose of programme and news exchange, broadcasters have
associated within regional unions such as the Arab States Broadcasting
Union (ASBU), the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU), the Caribbean
Broadcasting Union (CBU), the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the Union
of National Radio and Television Organizations of Africa (URTNA), which
arrange for inter-member transmissions. For example, the Unions lease national
and international circuits for daily news exchange among their members,
including reserve circuits as necessary. International assistance has been
instrumental in creating the operational networks of the unions of developing
regions (AFROVISION, ARABVISION, ASIAVISION, CARIBVISION) which concentrate
on news exchange. Innovative uses of ICTs, particularly low-cost multi-point
satellite channels, have greatly improved the reach and sustainability
of these activities in recent years (ITU and UNESCO, 1995).
Priority Areas for the Future
67. Interactive television and multimedia open up yet unexplored perspectives
for the mass media, for education and information as well as for entertainment,
and provide opportunities to enhance the role of public service broadcasting.
Efforts should be made to ensure that the rapidly developing media technologies
are made available over a truly universal network, providing the public
in both developing and industrialized countries with the widest possible
access. Although broadband services should be developed where economically
feasible, and can be expected to become increasingly available in developing
countries through enhancements of telecommunication and cable TV systems,
the media should also make use of existing possibilities such as the Internet
to provide viable, interactive products and services which can reach a
68. Priority should be given to developing localized sources of information.
For example, the Asia and Pacific Regional Seminar on Information Technology
for Newspaper Publishing held in 1995, provided recommendations on how
small and medium-sized newspapers in the region can better apply communication,
information and informatics technologies taking full account of social
and cultural factors such as the need to adapt technologies to the national
or local languages. In some countries, enabling technologies can only have
the desired impact if accompanied by reform of the legal framework for
the media, as expressed for example in regulatory and censorship policies
Key Issues and Challenges
69. Several key issues merit attention. Although it is highly desirable
to increase the diversity and number of media sources in developing countries,
a number of considerations, primarily around cost, make it difficult to
do so. The transition in progress towards democratic press structures presents
a critical financing problem for newspapers and news agencies which are
being forced to cut costs and develop new products to remain competitive.
New and more effective use of ICTs should be considered by these media
as a major challenge and opportunity in responding to the new environment.
70. As a result of deregulation and privatization of telecommunications, most of the major international news agencies (Reuters, AFP, UP, etc.) now transmit their services by satellite, which obliges their clients to acquire earth stations. The international agencies provide the stations and encode the information, giving them total control of the information transfer process. Technically, these transmissions are more reliable and efficient than the traditional radio transmission method, but many small agencies in developing countries find the new technology constraining and exorbitantly expensive, which represents a threat to free access to information.
71. Broadcasting unions could especially benefit from tariffs based
on incremental costs, to make use of the significant spare capacity of
the present satellite systems. Flexible conditions for part-time or irregular
leasing of channels, and long-term lease under fixed conditions with appropriate
discounts, are needed. The lack of standardization of earth stations among
international and domestic satellite systems is also a significant barrier
to use of these systems (ITU and UNESCO, 1995).
72. The technological changes that have occurred in recent years should
encourage the development of cooperation between telecommunication operators
and the media with the aim of establishing new partnerships which would
fully meet their needs and interests of both parties at the technical and
73. In addition, efforts should be made to encourage greater responsibility
among the mass media for which maintaining integrity and sensitivity of
information will be a critical issue. The FEMMED-WOMMED (Femmes et Media
- Women and Media) network, for example, was formed under UNESCO auspices
in 1995 to facilitate balanced access to expression and decision making
in the media irrespective of gender (UNESCO, FEMMED-WOMMED, 1996). This
network is both considering the Internet as a major new medium which is
underused by women, and developing its action making full use of the potential
of electronic information exchange.
74. The field of scientific research is shrinking in many developing
countries. Budgets are becoming tighter. As a result, scientists in developing
countries lack proper facilities and equipment for conducting research.
Developing country researchers and scientists also lack access to scientific
research conducted in developing countries and in industrialized countries.
Their work is under-represented in much of the documentation and databases
that currently exist. They are also constrained in sharing and disseminating
information with different institutions within their country as well as
with other countries. The result is that researchers and scientists in
developing countries are not able to collaborate on an equal footing with
their peers around the world.
Applications of ICTs in Developing Countries
75. Research and development depends by its very nature on effective
access to and sharing of data and information. Certain privileged research
institutions have traditionally been well placed in terms of budgets and
technological expertise to take full advantage of new telematics techniques.
The worldwide development of "research networks" - dedicated
computer networks to provide basic telematics services to the academic
and research sectors (electronic mail, electronic conferencing, file transfer
and access to databases) as well as specialized computer resource sharing
applications like supercomputer access and distributed processing, was
the driving force for launching the Internet in industrialized countries
and is now assuming this role in many if not most developing countries.
Efforts in the developing countries thus far have concentrated on building
basic network connectivity among researchers and to the Internet. This
has been particularly useful for many smaller institutions which were kept
on the margin of scientific field. In Latin America, for example, the development
of research networks has been notable, facilitated by enabling government
and operator policies, and, in Central America particularly, by cooperation
among the telecommunication operators in promoting intra-regional data
communications (Comisión Técnica Regional de Telecomunicaciones
- COMTELCA) (ITU and UNESCO, 1995).
76. Although many researchers still are unable to fully access the Internet,
store-and-forward networks, based on UUCP or simple and robust PC-based
technologies like FidoNet, now enable most major research institutions
to interconnect for basic e-mail and file transfer services. The work of
bilateral assistance programmes and of international non-governmental and
intergovernmental organizations has been very effective in promoting international
connectivity. Although much remains to be done in this area, the major
problems for the research sector in most developing countries are now concerned
more with upgrading and with improved exploitation of facilities rather
than with basic connectivity.
Priority Areas for the Future
77. Developing countries should seek to support virtual scientific laboratories,
in which researchers from developing and industrialized countries can collaborate
through telecommunications and telematics on common projects. "Virtual"
research groups will become increasingly common - composed of interconnected
specialists working on the same problem in different parts of the world.
Connecting these groups within developing countries and to related groups
around the world will be a critical task. To this end, it will be important
to provide network access not only to national scientific institutions
but also to local-level institutions and to individuals in developing countries.
Software should be developed to support effective group work (e.g. whiteboard,
3D viewing when needed) under the communication conditions available in
the developing countries.
78. This connectivity will provide for access to information relevant
to developing countries but stored in databases in the North. In addition,
electronic publishing should be supported as it will provide faster and
cheaper access to the scientific literature, and facilitate the maintenance
of an international archive of scientific accomplishments.
79. All of these facilities should help in a large measure to improve
the poor working conditions of researchers in developing countries, which
are one of the principal causes of the "brain drain" phenomenon.
Key Issues and Challenges
80. Major issues facing the development of electronic journals are those
of access to and quality control of information. At recent discussions
on these issues, scientists have begun to opt for approaches favoring self
regulation. For example, The Experts Conference on Electronic Publishing
in Science (ICSU Press and UNESCO, 1996) recommended that strict
peer review should be applied to all scientific material submitted for
publication in electronic journals. It went on to suggest that a forum
should be organized involving scientific societies in order to formulate
codes of ethics and of conduct for electronic publication which would spell
out the reciprocal obligations of the scientist and the community on such
matters as peer review, citation integrity and authentication of material
and archiving. Virtual laboratories, electronic libraries and virtual research
groups must also face the issue of intellectual property rights such as
patents and copyright which present particular problems in electronic media.
It is clear that the concept of "fair use" must be extended to
apply to use of electronic works in research and education while still
protecting the rights of creators and producers of such works.
81. Another important issue facing the scientific research community
will be how to electronically document the volumes of information that
have been produced in the past and are currently being produced. The malleable
nature of digitalized information requires the establishment of verifiable
and accessible electronic archives. It will be important to establish principles
and protocols for maintenance, content, structure, eligibility, accessibility
82. A major hurdle issue will be the costs of acquiring and setting
up the ICTs. Telecommunication costs are still quite high in developing
countries. Adequate and reasonably priced network access is essential for
scientific work and scientific education. Network applications for virtual
research, such as groupware and televirtuality, should be developed so
as to operate effectively in the networking environments of scientific
institutions in developing countries. International assistance should focus
in this context on how developing countries can set up and optimize computer
networks and applications for scientific research.
83. In addition, all scientists should receive training in information
resources and library use and in good authoring skills, adapted to the
electronic environment, if possible as early as the undergraduate level.
84. Environmental degradation, civil strife, earthquakes, floods and
other natural disasters often cause chaos in unprepared developing countries.
Insufficient emergency communication systems, especially on the local and
village levels, limit the effectiveness of responses by state and international
assistance organizations. Many of the areas threatened by environmental
degradation and natural disasters are unable to adequately communicate
with assistance organizations, and lack the terminal technology and applications
to benefit effectively from existing communications. Concerned organizations
still find themselves locked into reactive situations rather than being
able to establish monitoring and information systems using geographic information
system (GIS), remote sensing and satellite early-warning technologies which
provide tools to anticipate and proactively respond to such problems. In
addition, when important information is available there are often delays
in getting it to people in time to help them. For example, drought and
famine warnings may not arrive in time to change planting times.
Applications of ICTs in Developing Countries
85. Three categories of application can be cited: i) environmental monitoring
and management, ii) emergency action and iii) sensitization of the public.
ICTs are helping to expand humanity's capacities to understand and manage
physical and ecological processes, and to forecast and respond to natural
disasters. The Global Observing Systems for environmental monitoring, being
set up through a UN system-wide initiative, are possible only because of
advances in data sensing, processing, communication and presentation. The
function of ICT applications to limit mortality, injury and loss of property
will be facilitated by seamless links with the communication media available
in the home and workplace (UNESCO, Telecommunications for Protection of
the Environment, 1996).
86. One of the major priorities of UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere initiative
today is the development and full use of the existing network of sites
identified as biosphere reserves, of which 328 existed in 82 countries
as of June 1995. Electronic communication and information technologies
are indispensable if such a world network is to be effective. A recent
example involves the introduction of Internet communication for biosphere
reserves in the Central European region, where five countries (Belarus,
Czech Republic, Poland, Slovak Republic and Ukraine) are co-operating with
the GEF Biodiversity Protection Programme (World Bank) and other organizations
to develop electronic networking capacity in some 31 protected areas, including
nine biosphere reserves.
87. In the area of emergency action, efforts are being made to provide
assistance organizations with detailed information on the sites where they
must intervene using mobile workstations with all necessary data on the
buildings, the terrain, and other site parameters, and complementing these
with real time access to data on rapidly changing factors such as meteorological
conditions and mobilization instructions.
88. Efforts are also being made to sensitize the public to different
environmental issues. ICTs are allowing much more information to be made
available to the general public much more quickly than before. An example
is the International Tsunami Warning System (ITSU), established under the
auspices of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC). ITSU
disseminates Tsunami Watches, Warnings, and Advisory Bulletins. Dissemination
agencies also have a continuing responsibility for educating the public
concerning the dangers of tsunamis and for developing safety measures that
must be taken to avoid loss of life and to reduce property damage.
Priority Areas for the Future
89. Several goals must be addressed by developing countries. They should seek to implement networks which, as far as possible, provide access to telecommunication in areas threatened by environmental degradation and natural disasters. This might involve facilitating the use of low cost terrestrial and satellite radio communication systems in emergency situations. In addition, they should attempt to establish problem monitoring information systems using geographic information system (GIS) technologies, remote sensing and satellite early-warning. They must seek to devise means of getting information to people. Two kinds of architecture should be foreseen:
Key Issues and Challenges
90. Remote sensing and GIS can be valuable tools for resource managers
and policy-makers concerned with environment and development problems.
But, despite technological advances and diminishing costs, the potential
offered by these technologies has not been fully assessed or realized.
Further research is needed to assess the costs and benefits of using the
technologies for various types of applications. In addition, a number of
constraints to the use of the technologies - mostly of an institutional
nature - need to be addressed. They relate to access to and exchange of
data and information, to training and to costs. An important goal is the
unification of information standards and terminology which would facilitate
the compatibility of environmental information systems.
91. Environmental data are also an important economic commodity. Most
of the information is concentrated in industrialized countries due to their
possession of remote sensing facilities, where it is sometimes viewed as
a national resource to help predict and influence the development of markets
such as that of agricultural products. One troubling tendency is for the
concerned agencies and enterprises to encrypt remote sensing data, accompanied
by substantial increases in the cost and complexity of use. The international
community should find ways to ensure that a balance is achieved between
commercial interests and the need of developing countries to gain access
to data concerning them, whether this be for disaster mitigation or for
open and co-operative scientific research.
92. Another challenge is that since the nature of environmental information
is very complex, much remains to be done to popularize it and get it to
the general public. For example, after the Chernobyl disaster, information
did not reach the population concerned in time from political leaders,
which led to contamination of thousands of victims who could otherwise
have been protected. Hence the ethical task of experts to duly inform and
sensitize the decision makers and to urge them to provide means and facilities
necessary to "sensitize" the people and draw their attention
to environmental problems.
93. In case of emergency, the Internet is not the most appropriate warning
system. For natural catastrophes like an earthquake or a flood, means of
communicating information have to be found which are independent of standard
terrestrial communications (e.g. VSAT, mobile telephone). A substantial
improvement in warning could be achieved by the wide use of radio receivers
that would be activated automatically after receiving a special signal.
This would allow the dissemination of detailed instructions to the population
regarding the action to be taken, rather than relying on sirens or other
"information-poor" systems to which the general public rarely
knows exactly how to react. Appropriate measures should be developed to
ensure that, in case of emergency, the bandwidth necessary for the transmission
of the required information, including images, is available on the Internet
or other designated networks, avoiding any delay caused by overload by
the great number of users not directly involved in crisis management.
IV. CONSTRAINTS TO REALISING THE POTENTIAL
OF ICTs IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
94. The challenge that stands before developing countries is how to
ensure that all segments of society get appropriate access to the benefits
that ICTs offer. Before discussing the constraints which are at the root
of this challenge, it may be useful to consider the overall goals to be
met. First, there is the issue of "benefits", that is, how to
ensure that the benefits are consistent with individual, local, national,
regional, global development priorities and do not contradict or undermine
indigenous development goals. The idea of benefits must be continually
reviewed and re-evaluated in this context. Then, there is the question
of which benefits should be freely available to all human beings and which
should be paid for. There is also a deeper issue of access which is concerned
with not only making sure that individuals and user communities are able
to reach the technology and information that is currently available but
also to ensure that they are involved in framing and generating new content
and applications. It thus becomes critical not only to protect the interests
of diverse (and particularly, smaller) creators, producers and distributors
but also to actively support their involvement at the local, national and
global levels. As has been discussed, cooperation and sharing of relevant
content will be extremely important, particularly at the regional level.
95. A second caveat is the need for clarity on what "all segments
of society" means. There are many potential end-users of ICTs within
any developing country context including individuals, universities and
educational institutions, NGOs and community organizations, businesses,
government, public institutions and donors. Each of these users has different
sets of needs in terms of content, technology applications, equipment and
data speed transfer, levels of connectivity and interactivity, etc. They
represent different age groups and cultural perceptions, with different
affinities for and familiarity with ICTs. They also have different infrastructure
constraints, e.g. related to urban, semi-urban, rural and remote environments,
as well as limited budgets for purchasing equipment and software. The case
of India, for example, illustrates the stark divergences that can occur
within a country when one compares, for example, Bangalore to the tribal
areas of Assam. Providing individual access to each of these end-users,
a model being developed in some countries of the North, is still not a
feasible one for most developing countries despite declining equipment
and telecommunications costs. It is essential to develop shared public
spaces for people to jointly access different technologies and information.
In addition, there must be an acceptance that not all end-users will need
to have access to the most sophisticated forms of technologies, when many
goals today can be met through well-established "traditional"
technologies. Phased approaches concerning the introduction of technologies
should thus be considered. Finally, it is extremely important that emphasis
be placed not only on making sure the end-users are connected to the GII
but also that they are connected to each other within the nation and local
96. This section will outline some of the constraints to access and
provide examples from different national situations as to how these are
being addressed. It is important to emphasize that barriers concern not
only issues of technological access but also financial, content, political,
regulatory, organizational, socio-cultural and ethical issues involved.
Underlying these constraints is the constant tension between calls for
standardization and the requirements for flexibility of applications in
the contexts of the Global Information Infrastructure, the National Information
Infrastructure, and the Local Information Infrastructure.
97. Discussions on ICTs for developing countries tend to concentrate
on the issue of access to the technologies themselves. For example, despite
rapid progress in the last year, no more than 15 African countries have
full access to the Internet and some remain without any electronic connectivity
at all. In 1994, the average "teledensity" (number of main lines/100
inhabitants) in Africa was only 1.6 as compared with 45.0 in Europe (UNECA,
98. Paradoxically though, unencumbered with decades-old copper wire,
some developing countries that have made communications a priority are
installing digital switches, fibre-optic lines and the newest cellular
and mobile technology. For example, the most sophisticated national networks
are in Djibouti, Rwanda, the Maldives and the Solomon Islands, where 100
per cent of the main lines are digital, compared with 49.5 per cent in
the United States of America (de Cuellar, 1995).
99. And for the approximately three billion people who have no telecommunication
network connection, there are some promising alternatives appearing. One
approach to benefiting optimally from existing facilities is for the users
to creatively apply other available technology to develop needed services.
For example, broadcasters in several African countries are making use of
the multi-point multichannel distribution system (MMDS) technique to retransmit
international satellite channels to viewers equipped with microwave receivers,
without the cost of laying cable. Packet-radio can also economically compensate
for poor terrestrial networks. In several countries of Latin America and
the Caribbean, where the terrestrial telecommunication networks are severely
overloaded and geographically unbalanced but there is good international
satellite coverage, VSAT technology is being introduced as an immediate
solution for priority applications (e.g. Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru)
(ITU and UNESCO, 1995).
100. The age of informatics equipment is a problem to be reckoned with
in many developing countries. In many cases, there may be a problem of
compatibility between technologies, and with systems not being fast enough
to run, for example, Internet applications. Previous experiences with technologies
serve to raise the spectre of technology obsolescence, in which ministries
have invested heavily in a particular technology and found it out of date
in a few years. In confronting these problems it is essential to understand
the process of rapid technological change and to formulate knowledgeable,
but flexible, strategies to move forward. Cooperation and exchange of experience
at the national, regional and international levels will clearly be on asset
in this context.
101. Serious constraints also exist due to lack of reliable sources
of power for various technologies. The availability of electricity is still
very poor in developing countries. There is also a lack of redundant links
and back-up equipment in many cases which tends to limit the reliability
of applications. Alternatives in low-cost integrated solar power and battery
recharge systems are being considered (UNDP 1996).
102. Finally, an emerging issue which has implications for developing
countries is the exponential growth of Internet traffic, fueled particularly
by exploding numbers of WWW servers and users, which has created chronic
congestion that impedes efficient use of the Internet for certain purposes.
This is compounded for users in developing countries who typically have
slower equipment (computers and modems) and generally lower access bandwith
than counterparts in the industrialized countries. Efforts will needed
to be made to optimize configurations among stand-alone, intra-net and
Internet tasks, and to improve procedures for organization of and access
to the Web as discussed later.
103. The high cost of ICTs constitutes the major obstacle for developing
countries. The costs are typically discussed in four areas: infrastructure,
hardware, telecommunication tariffs, and content. Infrastructure costs
loom very high for developing countries. It is anticipated that developing
countries as a whole will be spending some 200 billion dollars in the next
five years in order to build over 300 million main lines and upgrade their
present telephone networks (de Cuellar, 1995). In addition, funding is
required to build sources of increased power for these facilities. Developing
countries are constrained in their ability to negotiate favorable terms
with multinationals, particularly as they are often competing among themselves
for a limited supply of international capital. There is also difficulty
in obtaining local capital for startup and expansion activities.
104. The problems of developing countries in meeting meet their financing
needs are often further exacerbated by inefficient and bureaucratic policies
and practices. For example, it is estimated that US$ 28 billion will be
required to achieve the goal of installing a telephone line for every 100
people in sub-Saharan Africa, but, if installation costs could be brought
down to global industry norms, the same goal could be realized for US$
8 billion (d'Orville 1996).
105. The cost of ICT hardware also poses significant challenges, although
this should ease over time with significant price and performance gains.
The cost of personal computers with basic network connectivity is already
approaching US$ 500, and the recent introduction of the Network Computer
by Oracle, IBM, Sun Microsystems and Netscape will allow people to connect
to the Internet without requiring them to own a personal computer. Compounding
the cost of hardware is, however, the fact that many developing countries
have high levels of import duties on information technology and communication
equipment. These have been established in many cases to protect local industry,
but they may also be making needed hardware inaccessible to key sectors
106. Tariffs for telecommunication services and facilities needed in
the sectors of public concern notably data communications, electronic
mail, leased lines and facilities for TV programme exchange are often
especially high in developing countries and hinder progress and innovation
in the area of telematics. The low income countries (mainly in Africa and
Asia) achieve an average level of profit on telecommunications operations
which is more than three times that of the world as a whole, despite the
fact that they gain less than US$ 3 per person per year from their inhabitants.
This apparent paradox can be explained by the fact that the relatively
few people within these countries who have access to telecommunications
services can afford to pay high prices. In theory, these low income telecommunication
operators should have the lowest level of profitability because they should
be operating major investment programmes. However, this does not appear
to be the case. Rather it appears that governments in these countries prefer
to use the telecommunications sector as a cash cow to pay for other parts
of the economy and projects unrelated to telecommunications (ITU 1994).
107. The trend towards cost-oriented tariffs, both nationally and internationally,
poses additional difficulties for the sectors of public concern. There
is an enormous gap in the tariffs being charged for telecommunications
and telematics services and the amount of money which publicly funded institutions,
such as schools, libraries and hospitals, can afford. There have been serious
efforts, through the use of special "educational" tariffs, and
these will no doubt encourage both the use and provision of telematics
services. News agencies and broadcasting unions in developing countries
are in most cases legally non-profit organizations and for many years have
attempted to obtain lower telecommunication tariffs. The following examples
reflect some of the solutions envisaged in developing countries (ITU and
108. Although there are may examples of tariff reductions granted to
the media throughout the world, they have probably been a less satisfactory
solution in developing countries than reductions for education, due to
the fact that the media are major users who require large stable concessions
rather than promotional arrangements.
109. Moreover, the issue of offering preferential or concessionary tariffs
remained unresolved. From the user point of view, the same basic question
of strategy is being posed: How much emphasis should be given to seeking
preferential treatment for specific sectors as opposed to focusing on reducing
tariffs for the users as a whole? Sustainable solutions in today's competitive
telecommunication environment are more likely to involve adequate user
investment and user negotiation with operators on the basis of consolidated
commercial demand, rather than long term subsidies (ITU and UNESCO, 1995).
110. Lastly, the cost of producing and marketing applications and content
represents another major hurdle facing developing countries, most of which
are forced to buy extensively from the industrialized countries. For example,
the software market is dominated today by the United States, Japan, Germany,
Britain and France. The only developing country to even crack the top-10
of software producers is India. But, India remains primarily an executor
selling its services and software abroad with relatively very few products
being developed for its own indigenous needs. The situation is not satisfactory
to the industrialized countries either, since it results in the fact that
much of the software and content available in developing countries is pirated.
111. There is some fear that similar conditions will prevail in the
area of telematics services with parts of the World Wide Web becoming commercialized.
Some information which was previously "free", is now becoming
an economic good. The inability to pay for information and services, even
if one has connection to the Web, becomes an additional barrier to access.
However the overall tendency seems to be that the Web will keep expanding
in terms of information freely available to the international community
as organizations and individuals find in it new possibilities to share
information and to promote cultural expression, as well as to develop professional
and commercial services. It is expected, in addition, that the development
of “applets” to be downloaded from the Internet will dramatically bring
down the cost of some software, which may soon benefit end-users.
Content and Interface Limitations
112. The question of access to content involves deeper issues than simply
costs. There are strong concerns over very little diversity and relevance
of content, particularly at local levels, as well as low production quality
in developing countries. Most content is produced either in the industrialized
countries or in the urbanized capitals of developing countries. It often
fails to reflect the physical conditions, the culture, the experiences
and the development priorities of many current and potential users. In
addition, there is a growing phenomenon in which access to the Internet
is constrained by too much information and too little bandwidth, particularly
in developing countries. Criticisms, are emerging, for example, against
the World Wide Web as a large depository for "cyber-junk".
113. If present estimates hold, by the end of 1996 there will be a staggering
150 million pages on the Web, containing 50-60 billion words. A major challenge
will revolve around the ability to locate and retrieve content. Part of
the solution will come from ever more powerful search engines and browser
programs with built-in subject knowledge and superior caching and index
structures (d'Orville 1996). But it will also be important to involve user
groups with common interests, particularly in the developing countries,
in efforts to structure, index and maintain useful information at the input
stage to ensure effective subsequent access.
114. Language can also be a serious barrier to access. For example,
today, a majority of the information available on the Internet is still
in English, and the principal "browser" software widely used
to access the information cannot identify and effectively present non-Roman
scripts. Such a situation serves to exclude the wide variety of users who
do not read languages originating in Western Europe. Developing countries
may want to consider adopting software that supports multiple languages
and translation systems to allow online dialogue between people using
different languages (d'Orville 1996).
115. Another problem is that of illiterate users excluded from the information
revolution no matter what language they speak. Developing countries may
want to consider developing special applications with simple interfaces,
or voice-based systems for illiterate populations. Other innovative interfaces,
often involving similar technical solutions, can help the physically handicapped,
such as those with hearing, vision or motor disabilities, who find it difficult
or impossible to use existing telematics services.
116. It is important, not only for the issue of access but also for
that of diversity, that the production of localized content in many different
languages be supported. However, today there is a lack of appropriate enabling
environments (facilities, equipment, training, etc.) for the creation of
local information products and materials.
Ethical and legal constraints
117. Several ethical and legal constraints stand in the way of developing
countries. Such constraints have tremendous impact on the free flow of
information within countries and with the rest of the world. Underlying
these constraints are several ethical questions that countries and peoples
must resolve. For example, should all people have access to all
types of information and for that matter all types of ICTs? What
should be the basis for determining levels of access? Who should make these
decisions? It is evident in this context the principle of "ability
to pay" is not one that is sufficient for guaranteeing equitable access
to ICTs and information.
118. Two legal issues stand out for developing countries to place on
their agendas: freedom of expression and intellectual property rights:
119. Freedom of expression is a universal principle which is
incorporated, for example in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights which reads: "Anyone has the right to freedom of
opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without
interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through
any media and regardless of frontiers." In the area of electronic
media, however, some difficult issues have been raised that have yet to
be adequately resolved by either industrialized or developing countries.
One way of casting the debate is in terms of "desirable freedom"
versus "unacceptable license". The extent to which this freedom
should be granted has been widely discussed, and policies and levels of
censorship vary considerably among countries. The question of when there
is there too much freedom is answered in large part by seeing when it encroaches
on the rights of others.
120. Two specific problem areas are of paramount importance regarding
freedom of expression. The first relates to privacy of information and
the right of individuals to restrict access to, or verify, data pertaining
to themselves. The second concerns information of an intolerant, racist,
violent or pornographic nature, and particularly its access by children.
These broad and difficult problems have been largely addressed by the relatively
few countries which have the infrastructure and resources to resolve them,
but will also have to be considered by others and particularly the developing
121. Several approaches serve to provide some guidance for dealing with
the problem of socially unacceptable content which is the more complicated
one because of its wider cultural implications (de Cuellar, 1995). First,
there is international legislation. For example, the Convention on the
Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, provides an international normative
framework by referring, in its Article 17 dealing with the media, both
to the need for State parties to ensure that children have access to information
and material from a diversity of sources and to "encourage the development
of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information
and injurious to his or her well-being ...."
122. Another approach that has been invoked by certain countries is
to ban certain technologies. The banning of satellite dishes by certain
states is a response to the objections that these countries have to the
programmes broadcast. In the case of the Internet, certain technologies
are being used to restrict access to information. Such measures represent
attempts to exercise what regulators call "the right to refuse"
which has been implemented, for example, in several Asian countries. Ultimately,
because of the nature of the technology, this right is probably largely
illusory in practice.
123. A third approach is voluntary standard-setting practices. Some
countries, extending the well established systems for rating films, are
promoting the introduction of codes for broadcasters to voluntarily classify
the material they show (by designating some programmes for universal viewing,
others as unsuitable for children, etc.). Analagous coding systems are
being introduced for the Internet, based, for example, on the Platform
for Internet Content Selection (PICS) standard developed by the World Wide
Web Consortium. The comprehensive study recently completed by the Australian
governement on regulation of the content of on-line services provides an
interesting model for such efforts (Australian Broadcasting Authority 1996).
These initiatives reflect a growing acceptance for ideas such as a “safe
harbour” period for family viewing and the formulation of “family viewing
policies.” User operated blocking devices based on agreed classification
systems are being introduced or considered by several countries to facilitate
the implementation of such policies.
124. Finally, efforts are also being made to encourage media literacy
in countries such as the United Kingdom so as to arm parents with the information
required to make sensible decisions regarding what type of content is viewed
in their households. In addition, efforts are being made to better enable
parents and teachers to discuss and mediate what children view.
125. Intellectual property rights represent a second critical
constraint that must be considered by developing countries. Intellectual
property is becoming a major factor influencing the development of information
use and its protection. The crux of the debate on this issue revolves around
the free circulation of works versus the effective protection of rights.
The basis of intellectual property protection has always been a balance
among the interests of three concerned parties: authors and performers,
investors and users.
126. There is controversy over whether digital technology will disturb
this balance enough to require changes in the basic framework, or whether
adaptations will suffice (such as the exceptions to the general rules which
already exist in many cases). The globalization of information networks,
the integration of different types of works in multimedia, and the fact
that digitalization makes works easier to alter and more difficult to keep
track of, pose problems of harmonization of national approaches to intellectual
127. Although in principle the means of transmission should not influence
intellectual property protection, creators and producers of intellectual
works believe that additional measures will be needed to protect their
rights in the digital age (UNESCO, Symposium on Copyright and Communication,
128. On the other hand, the trend towards electronic publishing is constantly
lowering the costs of services provided by intermediaries between the creator
and the end-user (presentation, dissemination, marketing), thus resulting
in pressures for lower usage charges. And excepting literary and artistic
works that are clearly in the commercial domain, there is a vast amount
of information which derives from the public domain, with varying degrees
of added value, and should be able to be made available to the public through
ICT based means at nominal cost or free of charge.
129. Collective administration of rights can provide solutions which
are less cumbersome than individual negotiations and provide economic benefits
both rights holders and users, but such schemes can be ineffective or even
harmful if they are established without proper safeguards and consultations
among the concerned parties. Different categories of rights holders have
applied collective administration with varying degrees of success, and
the harmonization of rights regimes should facilitate the standardization
and generalization of this practice. The establishment of special schemes
for "near public domain material", with payment on a block subscription
basis or through the public authorities, is a possibility worthy of serious
130. ICTs can also provide solutions, for example through automatic
registration of copyright claims, or mechanisms to monitor access to protected
works. The fundamental questions in this approach do not concern technical
feasibility but rather the degree to which such efforts are required, the
need to ensure respect of the privacy of the users, and the mechanisms
to pursue in case of infraction (e.g. jurisdiction of the country of the
server, the country of the producer of the work, or the country of the
131. To these problems are added difficulties in clarifying the application
of existing procedures to computer-generated materials. As an example the
1950 Florence Convention exempts educational, scientific and cultural materials
from customs duty, but there is not universal agreement on its relevance
to computer-readable materials or to educational materials developed or
distributed in a market-oriented context. Users, producers and governments
must be actively involved in resolving these questions.
132. Finally, there is the very important concept of fair use. In the
pre-digital world, this Jeffersonian concept ensured a balanced attenuation
of the rights of intellectual property owners in favor of information users.
Thus the very idea of library was made possible. But with the rapid advance
of digitalization, some copyright holders are questioning the very existence
of fair use for electronic media. This difficult problem should be carefully
analyzed and monitored by governments with the involvement of the international
community at large.
Political and institutional constraints
133. The problem of resistance to change is particularly important in
many developing countries. For example, there tends to be political reluctance
to review and modify national policies regarding ICTs, processes for implementing
new technologies, organizational structures and procedures, and regulatory
134. The last report of the Club of Rome stressed that co-ordination
is becoming more critical to governance than efficiency (UNESCO, Symposium
on Copyright and Communication, 1996). However, there is often insufficient
effort to cooperate with other leaders within a country and between countries.
Although highly desirable, it is often quite difficult for organizations
such as government ministries, the private sector and NGOs to really work
together because of different organizational cultures and attitudes.
135. National regulatory restrictions grounded in centralized state
control also stand in the way of access. Distribution channels are tightly
controlled in many countries by bureaucratic entities. For example, in
many developing countries, there are prohibitions on the creation of private
telecommunication networks (whether based on userowned or on leased
facilities) and/or on obtaining the required interconnection with the public
networks. It may also be very difficult to obtain licenses for broadcasting
and for accessing international telecommunications carriers.
136. Pressures for change have come mainly from concerned citizens groups
and enterprises. In the 1990s, for example, over 700 "illegal"
radio stations were set up in Turkey, challenging a law which gave a monopoly
over radio and television broadcasting to the state authority. In sub-Saharan
Africa, there has been a movement to deregulate broadcasting from the hands
of the government. For example, Mali is a showcase for private broadcasting
with more than fifteen operational private radio stations, while the National
Broadcasting Commission of Nigeria has granted licenses for one radio and
six television stations as well as eleven cable/satellite retransmission
stations. Many such stations appear to be following in the footsteps of
their mostly commercial counterparts elsewhere, focusing their attention
on advertising and entertainment-oriented programming, and licenses have
tended to be granted to individuals with close connections to the government,
but the evolution towards more open, competitive and pluralistic systems
is a healthy one. Similar tendencies are developing for the establishment
of private value-added telecommunication services and Internet providers
in developing countries (de Cuellar, 1995).
Human resource constraints
137. The ability to effectively access ICTs in developing countries
is severely constrained by lack of human resources in those countries.
On one level, users lack the minimum level of "digital literacy"
required to make effective use of and choices around ICT opportunities.
Such "literacy" starts with basic skills in using, for example,
computer terminals but then also extends to much higher level skills of
searching, filtering, selecting, and analyzing available information.
138. On another level, there is a tremendous lack of technically trained
personnel required to support National and Local Information Infrastructures
in developing countries. For example, information specialists need to learn
how to design and implement information systems in different applications
and national sectoral databases; to capture data, build and administer
databases and decision support systems; and to build information servers
on the Internet. In addition, information service providers need to know
how to analyze user needs and identify what information services their
users require; to access information available from national, regional
and international sources; and to establish systems for updating data on
a regular basis. Also, telecommunication and networking specialists need
to learn how to plan, design, install, operate and maintain communication
and information networks. Unfortunately, most developing countries seriously
lack such specialists and the programmes and facilities for training them.
139. Some of the industrialized countries are beginning to undertake
creative means to address the problem of widely disseminating ICT know-how.
In the United States, Tech Corps has been created as a national, non-profit
organization of technology volunteers dedicated to helping improve K-12
education at the grassroots level. The mission of Tech Corps is to recruit,
place and support volunteers from the technology community who advise and
assist schools in the introduction and integration of new technologies
into the educational system (McKinsey & Company 1996). Proposals have
been made to extend this concept to the international level through a volunteer
corps which would work in public sector institutions in developing countries,
and could use the Internet to further share and reinforce the expertise
available in these institutions.
140. Finally, very real and debilitating socio-cultural constraints
exist in developing countries which may prevent certain groups of users
from accessing different ICTs. Various forms of discrimination which exist
in countries extend into the realm of ICTs. Women, for example, generally
tend to have more limited access than men to information, the media and
communication facilities. Certain minorities also face serious constraints
as do the under-educated or illiterate. Age hierarchies may also restrict
access to younger groups. Overcoming such constraints will require that
specific actions need to be targeted especially at disadvantaged groups.
V. ACTION NEEDED TO RELEASE THE DEVELOPMENTAL
POTENTIAL OF ICTs
141. The exploitation of ICTs, particularly through the Internet, has
grown spectacularly in recent years, outdistancing efforts to plan and
control their growth. Economic and commercial interests have been the main
driving forces for the spread of ICTs. One of the results to date of the
spread of ICTs has unfortunately, even in industrialized countries, been
an increase in inequities between certain strata of society. These iniquities
result in large part from differences in ability to pay for ICT access,
but have much more serious roots and consequences; in effect, in today's
society those excluded from access to electronic information resources
are excluded from participating in the new global culture that is empowered
by use of these resources. It is therefore essential that someone look
out for the interests of the marginalized groups of society. It is necessary
to identify those critical areas within each country that are not profit-generating
activities, and to make sure that the government or non-profit sector provides
for required ICT applications in these areas and ensures that they are
available to all citizens in need of them.
142. At a deeper level, the emergence of an Information Society poses
challenges to both democracy and learning. The biggest challenge is not
opening up access to new technology, important though this is. Rather,
it involves preparing new perspectives, structures, strategies, skills,
and knowledge as well as developing new levels of understanding in order
to surmount the growing array of complex social, political, economic and
ecological problems confronting all countries. In addition to helping to
address these concerns, ICTs also increase the complexity of them. On both
of these levels, it becomes quite obvious that culture, education and science,
as distinct and integral parts of our civilization, cannot be left totally
at the mercy of market forces. While information technologies are providing
partial solutions to emerging problems, such as "cyber-locks"
to prevent viewing by sensitive audiences or mechanisms for ensuring the
integrity of digital works, there is still a need for certain policies
and a policy framework. This is particularly the case when trying to address
issues of cultural diversity and creativity, educational opportunities,
public participation, social awareness and responsibility, and promotion
of tolerance and peace.
143. This section seeks to recommend key areas for policy initiatives
to be pursued by governments in order to stimulate greater access to the
benefits of ICTs by developing countries and specific user-populations.
In addition, flexible but coherent policies are needed to protect the interests
of the end-users and the creators and distributors of information products
and services within the countries. These policies must be addressed at
all three levels: the Global Information Infrastructure, the National Information
Infrastructure, and the Local Information Infrastructure. This will not
be easy. The difficult challenges will lie in i) negotiating consensus
and consistency of policies on these three levels, particularly between
the developing countries and the industrialized countries; ii) facilitating
implementation of the policies; iii) monitoring the degree to which policies
are successful and modifying them accordingly. There currently exists a
real tension as to what extent ICTs should be regulated by governments,
and increasingly, by regional cooperation bodies. This concern may be partially
justified as it stems from an understanding of the heavily bureaucratic
conditions in which most governments operate. It is therefore critical
that both the governments of developing countries and their peoples become
involved in these policy discussions and efforts to regulate the ICTs.
Such involvement will require a shift away from top-down models of policy
formulation. Over time, new systems of organization at the national and/or
community levels may evolve to assist with these processes. The technologies
themselves might help to constitute new public forums for closing the gap
between policy makers and their constituencies. Several sets of policies
that should be addressed are identified below.
Legal and Ethical Frameworks
144. Governments and communities may have to enact laws to protect the
interests of users, creators, producers and distributors. Developing countries
must seek to actively participate in the process of reviewing various international
conventions to ensure that they are relevant, effective and fair. Although
there should be maximum flexibility in the interpretation of these laws,
governments may want to consider strong penalties for violations of them.
However, there is the real problem of enforcing these laws, particularly
on a global level. Therefore, to the extent possible, efforts should be
made to promote voluntary regulation, especially at local levels.
Intellectual Property Rights
145. The application of intellectual property rights should be adapted
to the new technological environment, e.g. online access, which implies
the existence of most works in non-physical form. Protection in this environment
increasingly depends on the legal and financial resources available, and
steps should be taken to extend equal protection to all authors and creators.
In particular, measures must seek to catalyze reflection on the issue of
artistic integrity and moral rights which are endangered by new technological
possibilities for distortion and for distribution of distorted works. Developing
countries should seek to develop an appropriate copyright policy which
tries to strike a balance between respect for intellectual property - as
an incentive to creation, a means of protecting national heritage and an
international necessity - and the provision of basic intellectual
needs of society, particularly the disadvantaged and the sectors of public
concern. Governments should spread awareness to the public about intellectual
property rights and, at the same time, undertake schemes for reducing the
negative effects of these rights on society as a whole.
Freedom of Expression
146. Developing countries must seek to establish policies on freedom
of speech issues which address areas of attribution, integrity, anonymity,
autonomy and accountability. Within this context, it will be extremely
important to reflect on issues of censorship both in terms of certain technologies
as well as in terms of harmful content. This issue of censorship will be
especially sensitive in countries where the government has maintained strong
centralized control over access to information in the past. It should be
anticipated that it will be very difficult to consistently judge the “offensiveness”
of the same content in different cultural settings.
147. Developing countries should review their policies of restrictions
on freedom of expression, including measures to ensure law and order or
national security, which may be inappropriately applied to ICTs. Although
new legislation or other measures may still be required to restrict pornography,
hate speech, and other socially destructive behaviour, as experience in
industrialized countries is showing, it will be difficult to enforce new
laws. Ultimately, progress on the free speech issue will hinge upon efforts
to develop a balance between anonymity and accountability. In this context
the differences between the traditional broadcast and printed media and
the new information highways should be carefully considered by the concerned
148. In addition, with the new ICTs, there is an increased risk of falsifying
and tampering with information. Standards for encryption and data security
should be developed to ensure the integrity of information and privacy
of individuals. Legislation should also be drafted against cybercrimes
such as cybertheft and piracy.
149. The government has an important role to play in securing citizens'
privacy through adopting laws to protect its people against invasion of
their lives through the new technologies. Developing country governments
should therefore formulate clear policies regarding electronic recording
of personal data and means for controlling its use in relation to privacy
Allocation of communication capacity
150. Another important question that might merit legislative action
is the designation of "public space", that is, how to share the
available communication capacity among and within countries. As Alvin Toffler
has stressed, "the [electromagnetic] spectrum ... like the ocean floor
and the planet's breathable air, belongs - or should belong - to everyone,
not just a few." The assignment of frequencies and service licenses
is in fact only part of a wider process determining access to the public
communication space. Private and transnational interests have claimed a
disproportionate share of this space in many developing countries, while
in others monolithic government interests still hold monopoly control.
Developing countries should seek to claim their rights in this public space
and then develop mechanisms for apportioning it to users. Reapportioning
public space will involve carefully relooking at International Law vis-a-vis
national laws (de Cuellar, 1995). One recommendation that has been proposed
as part of an open-entry spectrum system is that governments charge fees
for actual use of spectrum instead of auctioning exclusive licenses. In
addition to permitting more open access, this approach would ensure continuous
flows of revenues and not only a one-time auction income (d'Orville 1996).
151. In all of these areas, leaders from all over the world will have
to consider issues of jurisdiction. Existing laws and frameworks for enforcement
did not foresee the development of the GII. Conflicts involving transborder
interactions will be particularly difficult to resolve. As happened years
ago with law of the sea and outer space law, a "cyberspace law"
may well become necessary as a separate legal discipline, able to promote
and protect diversity and universality in the global information village.
Developing countries should seek to actively participate in forums for
drawing up an alternative body of legal principles applicable to cyberspace
(UNESCO, Challenges of the Information Highways, 1996).
Local access codes
152. Institutions such as schools, universities, libraries and local governments should also be encouraged to take responsibility for procedural and ethical aspects of ICT use which are important for their users, by developing their own electronic information access policies modeled on community, national and international practice. For example, such a local policy for a school system might state that only Web sites that have educational and instructional value will be accessible, and define the standards to be applied to identify these sites and applications. The policy might also state how these standards will be reviewed and modified. If software filters will be used to limit access to portions of the Internet, this could also be stated. Such a policy should also address the ethics of computer-based information access through a code of conduct covering software piracy, unauthorized access and confidentiality (Zenor, 1996).
Incentives and Subsidies
153. Incentives and subsidies may be a stronger mechanism for encouraging
and discouraging certain types of behavior concerning ICTs. Countries should
strongly consider, in the framework of their development priorities, the
subsidization of services in some specific sectors of public concern, particularly
those that are less well endowed. Institutions such as schools, hospitals,
research institutes, universities and public media should be considered
for such subsidies, which should generally apply for a short period
of time in each case with the aim of creating infrastructure to support
the concerned sectors. The highly successful experience of telecommunications
in the now-industrialized world provides a sound historical precedent for
154. Telecommunication regulators in developing countries should facilitate
the granting of lower tariffs to the sectors of public concern, taking
account of their specific needs and of the commercial interests of the
carriers (ITU and UNESCO, 1995). It is in the long-term interest of telecommunication
entities to accord users in sectors of public concern "most valued
customer" status and to give them high consideration concerning access,
flexibility and pricing as is done for large government and business customers.
The principle of "non-discriminatory" tariffs should be reviewed
when applied to sectors of public concern. There are a number of mechanisms
already in place (e.g. off-peak discounts, high-volume discounts, experimental
tariffs) which fall within the practical definition of non-discriminatory
treatment, and can be applied imaginatively to spur development through
155. In addition to an improved policy and tariff environment, end-users
would benefit from stability and predictability of tariffs. Researchers,
educators and other public sector users are, unlike corporate telecommunications
customers, unlikely to be able to pass on costs, and it therefore becomes
particularly important for them for costs to be transparent and predictable.
156. Governments should consider providing tax exemptions to selected
user groups on the purchase of hardware and software locally as well as
from abroad. Also, governments may wish to consider progressive tax exemptions
for telecommunication operators and value-added service providers which
are serving the needs of marginalized communities. Such measures should
be seen as incentives facilitating access to ICTs for development, in partnership
with entrepreneurs and commercial interests which would otherwise be unable
to immediately provide needed access at affordable cost.
157. As large corporations regularly replace their ICT equipment, an
immense and abundant second-hand market is in formation where, at a small
fraction of original prices, ICT hardware and software can be obtained.
The scope of these new opportunities is leading to a re-examination of
proposals to use them to assist poorer countries and public sector institutions
to acquire information technologies appropriate for certain applications
under favorable conditions. Efforts in this direction, facilitated by development
cooperation incentives in the industrialized countries and support from
the corporations concerned, should make sure that the receivers understand
the limitations of the equipment and are able to maintain and effectively
use it. Additional incentives might need to be considered to encourage
content producers to produce for the older platforms (d'Orville 1996) .
158. The shortage of quality content will be a critical issue facing
ICTs. Governments should seek to develop a code of positive content and
harmful content for creators, producers, distributors as well as end-users.
Accreditation or a “seal of approval” can be awarded to companies and institutions
who produce content that adhere to this code. It would useful for a comprehensive
rating system to be developed and promoted in public awareness campaigns.
Distributors would then be encouraged to mark their products with such
ratings and appropriate warnings.
159. In addition, a fund for producers and creators of content with
positive socio-cultural value might also be developed. Such a fund should
be especially targeted at creators and producers who work on a small scale
or are from marginalized groups, and could also be used to support efforts
to maintain linguistic pluralism. It should actively promote partnership
between content specialists and media specialists as well as cooperation
between them and educational and research and development programmes, to
promote innovation and develop sustainable markets for ICT applications
in sectors of public concern. Such a fund might be administered by an independent
body to free it from political pressures.
160. A related and interesting proposal concerns the use of micro-credit
schemes to support the production of local content (d'Orville 1996).
Public Domain and Public Access
161. The information market is taking care of itself with its powerful
means. Although there are imperfections and constraints for certain producers,
particularly in developing countries as discussed above, in general whatever
may have a market value is disseminated and may generate a fair return.
However, there are huge areas that the info-market seems to neglect, for
different reasons: insufficient expected profitability, small readership,
or more paradoxically, the public nature of the original data. For instance
when data is produced by official or governmental bodies, it may not be
promoted as aggressively and as widely as it would have been if the same
information had been produced in a private environment. It is an avatar,
in the information industry context, of the famous tragedy of the commons
paradigm. When something belongs to everybody, nobody in particular seems
to be motivated to take the care of it. Immense reserves of such public
domain information are thus often not well enough known of potential users,
just because nobody seems to be willing to take the initiative to promote
access to them, no direct profit being expected due the very public nature
of the information. Governments, public organizations and NGOs have very
rich and diverse information which should be inventoried, digitalized and
made available to the public using appropriate information technologies.
To this store should be assimilated other information which is free of
copyright because it has fallen into the public domain (including most
of the artistic and literary masterpieces of the past). Another line of
development of this public domain on line concept is a growing amount of
information produced by persons who are willing to let their intellectual
production be disseminated widely without trying to get a financial return,
on the condition that their name be attached to the information thus relinquished.
162. The above questions of access to information, and particularly
that of promoting a vibrant public domain while protecting legitimate private
interests, are key policy concerns of developing countries. The Internet,
given its strategic nature, should be considered by governments as a public
utility tool; a fundamental objective, particularly in developing countries,
should be to keep the cost of Internet accessibility as low as possible.
163. International organizations should assist by providing advisory
services to governments on the establishment of national and regional policies
to extend public access to information, making appropriate use of ICTs.
Examples of two lines of action in this area are presented below:
Government on line
164. Around the world governments are seeking to improve their efficiency
and impact in response to rising expectations of citizens and financial
pressures on the public sector. The information technology revolution is
providing major opportunities to help governments respond to these new
needs, and developing countries are poised to benefit particularly from
these opportunities, provided that they adapt their action to national
and local conditions:
165. The concept of on-line government could be further developed through
regional and international cooperation. For example, the establishment
of Internet links between Parliaments and their world organization, the
Inter-Parliamentary Union would make it possible for databases on legislative
debates and decisions to be available internationally at very low costs
to the poorest Parliaments.
166. Governments should also seek to support the establishment of public
"telecentres" which provide people with access to development-oriented
applications and content as well as needed ICT based facilities with associated
training. Such telecentres can be seen as the community libraries of the
future and as a critical component in supporting the goal of equal access
to cyberspace. They could be used to support the generation of local content,
and discussion and reflection on content. They might also be used to provide
local access to radio and television production facilities.
167. The ITU has been promoting the telecentre concept for several years,
and has in particular demonstrated how such centres can become sustainable
and largely self-supporting while fulfilling essential development functions.
Existing public facilities such as schools, hospitals, libraries, community
centres, post offices, etc. might be initially targeted as sites with the
idea that all organizations providing information content for development
- both governmental and non-governmental - should cooperate in developing
services and applications. The role of public libraries and of library
and information professionals as natural gateways to information resources
should be given special consideration in this context. In areas where appropriate
community and public facilities do not exist, governments could offer land
subsidies, exemptions, basic equipment, infrastructure linkages, etc. to
organizations or individuals wishing to build and run telecentres, which
might be best developed on a cost-sharing basis with local communities.
The feasibility of establishing mobile telecentres could also be considered.
In any case, strong efforts should be made to support interactivity among
public telecentres in order to achieve levels of public participation and
market development necessary to ensure wide benefits of ICTs in society.
168. The challenge for developing countries will be to develop cheap,
simple and robust technologies using flexible, modular, and scaleable network
designs for coping with increasing users and traffic. Standards are important
to the creation of "models" or "frameworks" within
which future networks and services can evolve. Ideally, such models should
be based on "open" standards, that is, not restricted to proprietary
specifications. The adoption of a set of flexible standards that are adapted
to the conditions in developing countries will be essential for certain
cost-efficiencies to be gained in these countries. Standards should also
reflect the financial realities of developing countries, which have limited
budgets and as a result much longer product purchasing cycles than their
counterparts in the industrialized world. Once users buy into a certain
technology it may be quite difficult for them to change it for several
169. Telecommunications and related information technology standards
have not, until now, been a major issue for the sectors of public concern.
However, the technologies now being employed by networks are heavily influenced
by standards promulgated by the ITU and the International Organization
for Standardization (ISO), as well as by de facto standards developed,
for example, by the Internet (which uses the TCP/IP protocols). Governments
and end-users in developing countries should become jointly involved in
efforts to harmonize the existing standards and develop the future ones
(ITU and UNESCO, 1995).
Training and Research
170. Training will be required at many different levels by many different
users to avoid their becoming passive recipients. Training programmes should
be developed to make decision makers in developing countries aware of the
opportunities that ICTs offer as well as of their potential pitfalls. They
should explore how existing and emerging technologies can be applied to
development goals. For example, ministries of education must be made aware
of different technologies in order to consider how these can be applied
in their education systems. Moreover, decision makers should also be knowledgeably
equipped to decline certain technologies. In some developing countries,
literally thousands of technology sales people are trying to sell their
products to the government with high pressure pitches and promises. The
decision makers unfortunately are often not well equipped to make decisions
concerning these confusing options. The general public also needs to upgrade
its level of computer and media literacy to be aware of the importance
of information availability and usage. Courses should be developed in this
context for schools as well as adult education populations.
171. Developing countries should also ensure the education and training
of specialists needed to develop networks and ICT based applications. Both
university-level education and practical continuing education are required;
they should cover both technical and management concerns and take full
account of both the latest international developments and the national
socio-economic and cultural context. Various modalities of public sector/private
sector cooperation should be considered to ensure the establishment and
full exploitation of needed education and training facilities. Regional
cooperation may provide an effective means for building critical facilities
which are outside the reach of a single country, at least in the immediate
172. As a complement and component of education on ICTs, developing
countries should support research on innovations in their use by different
populations and on their effects on society and development. Additional
research and development activities should also be considered around the
idea of promoting equal access to cyberspace, i.e. how new cost-effective
approaches could be developed to overcome the various barriers to access.
Universities and other centres of learning should be seen as key resources
in these efforts, and should in turn envisage various strategies for collaboration
with telecommunication operators and private enterprise which can bring
the results of research to the market while providing needed revenue for
public sector research and network access. An interesting model for the
international cooperation in this area is the UNESCO Chairs in Communication
(ORBICOM) network established to promote higher education and research
in communication through collaboration among academic members and industrial
associates (ORBICOM 1996).
173. Efforts to support cooperation among individuals, communities and
countries will be critical in promoting access to ICTs in developing countries.
Developing countries should seek to establish a framework and mechanisms
that ensure the participation of all sectors in implementing the national
information and communication infrastructure and co-ordinating and harmonizing
the multiple efforts of the different players, including the private sector,
NGOs, telecommunication administrations and operators, researchers, teachers,
and the media. It is especially important to ensure the participation of
all the major government ministries. This may involve the formation of
joint boards (with representation of government, industry, labour and consumer
174. Increased cooperation would help achieve some cost efficiencies
and economies of scale through standardization and through "bulk purchasing"
arrangements by "closed user groups". User organizations, having
contributed their requirements to the aggregated demand, will gain access
to networks or facilities at lower costs than they could have independently.
In addition, users, based on their large aggregate demands, may be able
to negotiate cheaper rates for higher capacity networks and more sophisticated
facilities, allowing them collectively to move ahead more rapidly. Agencies
in sectors of public concern should consider aggregating their demand for
telecommunication networks and services on a regional basis and presenting
these to national and regional providers. The purchasing, sharing and management
of networks and services might be carried out by a common service agency
or, a "broker", acting on behalf of the joint interests of member
countries or entities of public concern within a region.
175. In addition, regional cooperation could be important in giving
developing countries and specific user groups leverage to influence the
direction of standards and content. For example, user groups and governments
should cooperate in exercising pressure on WWW browser producers to support
easier access to information in their own languages, starting with the
most widely used ones such as Chinese, French, Hindi, Russian and Spanish.
A better organized market of users would help encourage and, at the same
time direct, entrepreneurs to produce relevant software, information and
services for the public sector.
176. Finally, cooperation will be critical in resolving conflicts between
national legislation and International Law related to sovereignty over
cyberspace, including questions of intellectual property rights concerning
electronic works and their dissemination.
177. For all the above areas, Governments should make strong efforts
to support not only international and regional cooperation but also local
cooperation, since it is only through an approach taking account of "grass-roots"
needs that developing countries can fully benefit form ICTs. As an enabling
step, they should seek to facilitate Internet and other ICT connections
among the various national entities concerned with progress towards an
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