The majority of the world’s population is still isolated from the opportunities offered by the global revolution in information and communications technologies (ICTs) – and the poor are the hardest hit.
This is the view of Ethiopian-based ICT expert Lishan Adam, whose issue paper Policies for equitable access considers policy interventions to rectify the imbalances between rich and poor when it comes to accessing technology.
According to Adam, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) data show that about 97% of Africans did not have access to a fixed-line telephone, a computer, or the internet in 2005 – figures that are matched by Asia. He says governments and regulators have not yet succeeded in delivering affordable communications services to the poor, and, despite the mobile boom in Africa, tariffs remain high. Regulators, who ideally should control the telecommunications industry without political interference, lack independence and specialist expertise, and are often unable to challenge powerful incumbents.
The picture gets bleaker: “Policies that promote pluralistic content have also not been successful due to strong government and private sector interests in the media,” states Adam.
“Communications are not a financial priority for about one–third of the world’s poor that earns less than USD 1 a day. This segment of the world’s population will not be able to benefit from opportunities provided by ICTs without innovative approaches that promote affordable access,” he adds.
Adam’s issue paper is one of a series of four on aspects of equitable access to ICT infrastructure commissioned by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC).