Communication, Information and Informatics Sector
World Communication and Information Report 1999-2000

Executive Summary 

During the 1996-97 biennium, UNESCO published two Worlds Reports in the fields of communication, information and informatics: the World Information Report 1997-98 and the World Communication Report 1998. Both documents were well received by Member States and the public at large, showing that there is definitely a need to pursue the series of Reports covering these areas. However, the convergence among various communication and information technologies due to the development of digital technologies is stronger than ever before and is completely transforming the overall picture. The borderlines between areas which were formerly separate are becoming more and more blurred. Large business and industrial concentrations on a global scale are taking place, showing a strong movement in the same direction. With a view to providing policy-makers and decision-makers with an adequate analysis of the situation, it was thus decided to publish during the 1998-99 biennium one single World Communication and Information Report.

Purpose and Methodology

In conformity with UNESCO's mission, the World Communication and Information Report 1999-2000 concentrates on the relation between information and communications technologies (ICTs) and on some of their socio-cultural impact. Many publications have provided a detailed picture of the technologies as a vehicle, but this Report focuses on content and, on the basis of selected data describing the development of the ICTs throughout the world, aims at providing a better understanding of their effects in the Organization's fields of competence.

The Report is made up of three parts: Part One deals with social processes and discusses the impact of the ICTs on human development, the media, education, culture and information services (for the relation between the ICTs and services, the reader is invited refer to the UNESCO World Science Report 1996 (pp. 269-80).

Part Two provides a brief description of technological developments, and more specifically those in the ICTs themselves, the multimedia and the Internet. Part three takes a geographical approach and starts with a global review, followed by chapters covering developments in the main regions of the world. A particular effort has been made to provide background statistical data which are to be found mainly in Chapters 1, 12-18 and the Statistical annex.

It would be presumptuous to claim that a report such as this could be exhaustive. The purpose is rather to provide decision-makers and the interested reader with sufficient information on the variety of situations in different parts of the world, on the more important technical development of the last two years and with a discussion of the main issues raised in this area by some of the most eminent world specialists.

A singular characteristic of most of UNESCO's World Reports is their methodology. Individual specialists are invited to prepare separate chapters in their fields of competence, be it a particular topic or a geographical region. This approach provides a means of bringing together different points of view and it has proved stimulating. The present Report follows this pattern and the editors trust that the reader will share their opinion that this has proved successful in all three parts of the Report, and more particularly in the regional chapters, since each of them has been written by an author coming from the region concerned.

Part one

Chapter 1 analyzes the economic significance of the ICTs from the human development point of view. A large part of this chapter is devoted to the presentation of economic data from both official indicators and business sources. Figures concerning the main economic agents, such as the private companies revenues and profits, are also given. The significant and continuing move towards concentration in this area is highlighted. The importance of the ICTs in world trade, in the world market and in trade balances is also described, followed by some indications on electronic commerce and cyberspace ‘contenders’, where competition and concentration are the driving forces. The author then discusses the unequal distribution of ICTs in the world, showing that the gap between developed and developing countries seems to be widening, even though many of the latter have launched policies and programmes, which include moves towards privatization and liberalization. The political issues surrounding the development of ICTs, which clearly include human development, are very important and lead to difficult choices that have to be made in the face of an uncertain future. The stage is thus set for the discussion of the main issues raised in Part I of the Report. A more detailed picture of regional economic trends is provided in part three.

Chapter 2 explores the new directions opened up for education by the use of ICTs and more particularly the Internet. For reasons of space, the paper does not discuss theoretical or technical questions, related to the complex interaction between the ICTs and education. The author rather selects a wide range of concrete examples, drawn from many different places throughout the world, thus demonstrating the immense potential of the Internet in this area. The need to create an appropriate environment is also discussed: cost effectiveness studies, content development, teacher training and, above all, national policies and planning are essential elements for the development of ICTs in education.

If some doubts have been raised about the real impact of ICTs on education, there are none where cultural activities are concerned. It is generally acknowledged that the mass media are just that, because technologies made it possible for them to reach mass audiences. Recent developments in this area, which result from the complex interaction between globalization and ICT development, create a new environment which is described in Chapter 3. Cultural production is becoming increasingly commercial and industrialized. The transfer from the producer to the consumer is more rapid than ever before, the dividing lines among leisure activities, information and culture are blurred, individual forms of access to culture are becoming more important and the primacy of American-English seems to grow. All theses features appear to diminish the role of public service broadcasting and make it difficult to formulate adequate national policies.

The impact of ICTs on the media takes many forms and, given the central importance of the mass media in contemporary societies, three chapters are devoted to this issue, dealing successively with freedom of the media, public service broadcasting and the use of ICTs by the media.

Freedom of the media is a basic principle of democratic societies and the defence of this freedom is at the heart of UNESCO’s action in this area. As shown in Chapter 4, the present evolution of ICTs has many facets. On the one hand, horizontal and vertical concentration in the media has led to the emergence of huge conglomerates with their concomitant economic and political influence. This can introduce serious constraints in media freedom such as self censorship or editorial dependence. On the other hand, the Internet seems to provide an opportunity for individuals, small groups or minorities, whether oppressed or not, to express their views independently of the large conglomerates or state monopolies. On the other, various mechanisms are available to limit information flows on the Internet. The balance of the information flow between the North and the South may also be adversely affected by concentration on a worldwide scale. The game is far from over, however and the future is uncertain.

Changes introduced by ICTs also have a profound influence on public service broadcasting, which is discussed in Chapter 5. The general trend towards a diminishing state role in many public activities – including public service broadcasting - does not appear to create a favourable context. New ICTs require heavy investments, which put a strain on public authorities. Nevertheless, if public service broadcasting makes good use of the opportunities offered by new technologies, such as wider individual choice and interactivity, it may still play a major role. Public service broadcasting may also be instrumental in the struggle against the threat of worldwide homogenization and cultural globalization; it should contribute to strengthening notions of identity and community and to establishing adequate interaction between citizens and their closer or wider communities. Public service broadcasting can also educate citizens in the use of the new technologies, helping them to gain access to a wider range of information sources and favouring their participation in different levels of public decision-making.

While chapters 4 and 5 look at the impact of ICTs on the media at social and institutional levels, Chapter 6 moves to very practical issues, directly related to professional practice. The author describes the new opportunities for media business offered by various technologies, including the Internet, such as direct selling and electronic printed matters. The major impact seems to be reflected in a new business model, where the media address an audience base which is larger than ever, and within which groups and tendencies have to be identified. This creates new difficulties for both advertising and for security. Some new technologies seem particularly appropriate for developing countries, such as clockwork radios, low energy technology and radio broadcasting over the Internet. More important, new technologies influence the basic practice of journalism, with the concepts of a 24 hours news cycle, ‘breaking news’ and instant journalism, all of which raise fundamental issues of reliability and accuracy.

These three chapters clearly illustrate the deep impact of ICTs on the media and the need for policy decisions, which were also called for in the chapters on human development, education and cultural pluralism. The last touch to the picture is provided by a brief look at the services provided by archives, libraries and information units. Dealing with recorded information, Chapter 7 is perhaps the most optimistic: digital technologies and more particularly the Internet, offer new vistas in this field. For information professionals and users, a wide range of new facilities is available: access to catalogues on an international scale, development of unprecedented storage capacities in digital libraries and archives, a worldwide information base for searching and retrieval offered by the Internet. The only negative point is the threat of the introduction of fee-based services in a profession, where the tradition of free services in deeply entrenched.

In guise of a conclusion to the first part of the Report, Chapter 8 deals with the role that governments are or should be playing in relation to the ICTs. As was seen in the preceding chapters, the impact of the ICTs has taken many forms and may be even more powerful in the future. Governments cannot remain idle faced with such large and diverse opportunities and dangers. After recalling briefly the wide-ranging information policies formulated in the mid 1990s, Chapter 8 discusses the problem of overall governance of the ICTs in general. More particularly, the role of governments in dealing with the negative aspects of the ICTs such as the distribution of illegal and harmful material, hacking, commercial crimes, or abuse of privacy is discussed. Finally, reviewing intellectual property, more particularly copyright and neigh bouring rights, ownership of data and the public domain, this chapter demonstrates how the development of the ICTs affects this area crucially. These matters have been examined recently at several important international meetings and while consensus was reached on some points, the many issues which remain unresolved, reflect the strength of the various interests at stake.

Part two

Part two, is much shorter and is intended to serve as a reference base. The aim is to provide the non-specialized reader with an idea of the wide range of technologies which underpin the ICTs. Chapter 9, recapitulates the main technological advances made in 1997 and 1998. Such a review has to be highly selective, because of the extraordinary rate of innovation in such a competitive area. The overall context is set by Internet related technologies; next, the most significant progress made in computer hardware and software, peripherals, memory and data bases, user interaction, virtual reality, networking, local and wide areas network, telecommunication, telephony and the World Wide Web (WWW) is reviewed. The rapidity, diversity and multiplicity of the innovations in the ICTs is both impressive and seemingly endless and there are some remarkable examples of both intellectual creativity and marketing dynamism.

Less technical and closer to the overall content issue, Chapter 10, which looks at multimedia products and markets, also describes in a very limited space one of the fastest-growing areas of the ICTs. The integrative power of digitization and interactivity is bringing about a multimedia revolution. The large variety of products and services and the complexity of the production chain require new descriptive models. Off-line and on-line products are as diverse in their utilization as they are in their content. In the near future the Internet may well provide the favorite form of access. The cost range among various multimedia products is wide, and given the rapid development in this area, products often have a very short life. For these reasons, the future of this sector is very difficult to predict.

Not surprisingly, a whole chapter is devoted exclusively to the Internet (Chapter 11). The network of networks has been moving into the private sector for several years, but this move is by now almost completed, thus raising important political, financial and technical questions. From a technical point of view, the issues of naming and addressing, bandwidth capacity, wireless connectivity and e-commerce are of particular concern. In the social and legal fields, certification, intellectual property and security need urgent attention. Customization of e-commerce, various forms of collaboration among geographically scattered individuals or institutions and the wide deployment of sensors mechanisms for a number of humanitarian purposes are areas showing great development potential.

The overall impression created by this review of technological developments in information and communication processing and diffusion is that of a powerful dynamism driving the whole sector. In Part one, the same dynamism is observed in the areas of education, culture and communication as well as in economic and political spheres. Will the worldwide survey of Part three confirm this view?

Part three

As mentioned earlier, there are many sources, which provide data and information on the various economic aspects of the development and use of the ICTs. Part three of the Report begins with a worldwide view presented in Chapter 12. The approach here is to widen the scope of the data provided by adding a chronological dimension: whenever possible, the evolution is shown from 1975 or 1980 to 1995, thus providing useful indications of comparative developments in different parts of the world. Two forms of bridges are built, one to link traditional services such as the postal service to the latest Internet developments, and the other to link purely technological instruments such as telecommunication lines to content carriers such as newspapers, books and radio and television broadcasts. From careful analysis of the basic ICT indicators at world wide level, the author concludes that there is a more or less stable per capita consumption of traditional ICTs, a high rate of growth of modern ICTs in industrialized countries and, for the most recent ICTs such as Integrated Services Digital Networks (ISDN) and the Internet, a sharp difference between developed and developing countries. It is difficult to escape from the obvious conclusion that, if present trends continue, the gap between information-rich and information-poor will continue to widen.

The worldwide overview is followed by six ‘geographical’ chapters covering Africa, the Arab States, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean and finally Western Europe and North America. Needless to say, the dominant impression is one of contrasts. Chapter 13, devoted to Sub-saharan Africa, underlines the extremely low starting base of most indicators, both general ones, such as literacy and life expectancy and those which are ICT related, such as teledensity, radio, television and Personal Computer (PC) penetration, telecommunications and Internet access. Even if the growth rates in terms of investments are impressive and if the support provided by bilateral and international assistance is considerable, the development of an adequate ICT infrastructure still has a long way to go. In the broadcasting sector, legislation tends to be inadequate and the gap between rural and urban areas may widen for lack of profitability. Important efforts have been made by intergovernmental agencies to assist in the definition of adequate policies and to launch pilot projects in this area, but positive results are still off in the future.

The Arab region, described in Chapter 14, presents a somewhat different picture. Literacy rates are higher and some countries enjoy oil-related revenues. In some instances, major investments have been made in broadcasting and telecommunications, more particularly as a result of the creation of the ARABSAT consortium. Telephone, radio and television penetration ratios are often favourable and the growth in the number of Internet users, while recent, is impressive. In some countries, automation of central governments agencies has been moving forward in a significant way, as it has for many printing related activities (newspapers, magazines and books). Despite its strong intellectual heritage, the region continues to import more than it exports in this sphere of activity. Governments have a key role to play in formulating policies and defining strategies to ensure that the ICTs will contribute effectively to the overall development of the countries of the region.

In Chapter 15, the challenge of describing the ICT situation in the most populous and the widest area of the globe, Asia and Oceania, is successfully met. The two world giants in terms of population, China and India, offer very different profiles. In China, investments in ICTs are growing at a rapid rate, but given the population density, per capita ratios will remain low for a long time, in particular because of the growth of large urban areas. The government supports the expansion of the Internet, but maintains close control over content. India, the largest democracy in the world, has just defined an Internet Service Provision Policy, thus launching the process of issuing licences. The poor telephone infrastructure is an important obstacle, which might be partially overcome by special high capacity lines. India is also very successful in exporting software. Figures for this are estimated to be $4,000 million by the end of the century. The Pacific region, where geographical dispersion and vulnerability are the key words for describing most of the island countries, has high hopes of the development of telecommunications and the liberalization process has begun in some of the countries. The other countries of the Asia region may be grouped in three categories. The first includes those countries, which are moving to broadband access allowing for interactive multimedia or e-commerce. In the second group, the presence of the Internet is well established and the user population is already diversified, but mainly for narrow-bandwidth applications. The third group is made up of those countries which have only recently joined the Internet community. The diversity of languages and scripts – often characterized by an ideogrammatic base and non-roman alphabets - poses a very specific problem for information processing. On the other hand, high investments in satellite communication have strengthened the broadcasting and telecommunication facilities of the region.

In Central and Eastern Europe, as described in Chapter 16, the specificity of the situation derives from the fundamental transformation of both the political and economic systems following the collapse of totalitarian regimes. The end of state monopolies in many countries, including that of broadcasting and telecommunication, has clearly created a completely new environment, and the changes have been impressive. There are wide intraregional variations, in terms of economic development, and statistics demonstrate that the growth rate of ICTs (as measured for instance, by telecommunication investment and revenues) is linked to the share of the service sector in the Gross National Product (GNP). Telecommunication penetration figures are lower at least by half than those in Western Europe. However, radio and television display fairly high levels of penetration. The broadcasting monopoly which has disappeared from Central Europe seems to prevail in Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Close collaboration with the European Union has been established for policy formulation, infrastructure investments and project implementation, but the region still has a long way to go before entering the 'Information Society'.

The Latin American and Caribbean region is below the world average for many factors relevant to ICT development. Chapter 17, which notes that the growth of the ICT market is higher than the world average, establishes the general context for further analysis: in one case, the software market, the growth rate of has been explosive (297% in three years). The community of language has favoured regional co-operation, more particularly in higher education and the Organization of American States (OAS) has contributed to the establishment of an inter-university regional network based on the Internet. A significant tide of democratization, which has generated an outstanding expansion of the media market – except for print – characterizes the region, even though strong contrasts continue to prevail. Telecommunication and Internet infrastructures are still insufficient, because of the weakness in investments. However, the Internet, mobile computing and wireless technologies are undergoing the most rapidly accelerating growth. Maybe due to security-related uncertainties, no significant plan for e-commerce can be cited, even though the growth of Internet hosts is exponential. The Caribbean region offers figures generally lower than those for Latin America, but the efforts originating from subregional co-operation and international assistance seem to have yielded some results. For the region as a whole, the privatization process in the telecommunication industry has attracted substantial foreign investments, and with the advantages accruing from deregulation and liberalization, the situation may evolve rapidly in the near future.

The last geographical chapter (Chapter 18) covers Western Europe and North America, which already possess a strong ICT infrastructure and which in 1997, represented 65% of the ICT market. Expenditure on ICTs, as a percentage of GDP, has been growing constantly since 1993. This area is also highly competitive. In Western Europe, there is a North-South divide when considering per capita ICT expenditure and PC penetration. In both Canada and the United States, almost one in four inhabitants uses the Internet, while in Western Europe there are much wider variations. Against this background, many policy initiatives have been taken to move forward and further develop ICT infrastructure, their population-wide use and the international investment, production and export in this area.

Statistical Annex

The Statistical Annex presents a selection of the main data relevant to ICTs. In the first section, the annex covers selected general indicators, as well as the most important indications concerning communication and information. The second focuses on ICT trade data. The last section lists basic statistics on Internet penetration and use. For reasons of space, it has not been possible to give tables at the country level, but it is hoped that enough factual information is provided to facilitate comparisons among regions or categories of countries.

On the basis of the various contributions from all three parts of the Report and the Statistical Annex, it is hoped that the reader will be in a position to evaluate, from different points of view, the situation of ICTs throughout the World and their considerable impact on education, culture and communication.