Nets, Webs and the Information Infrastructure/Net for us

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What is the digital divide?

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The digital divide refers to the division of the world into people who have access to ICTs and those who do not have access to these technologies. Inasmuch as ICTs are the enabling technologies in the Information age, the digital divide is an important development concern of the 21st century.

A digital divide can exist between urban dwellers and rural folk, between the educated and the uneducated, between socio-economic classes, between ethnic groups, and between men and women. There is also a digital divide between countries and geographical regions. Specifically, in terms of Internet backbones, the US, Canada and European countries are well connected whereas Asia, the Pacific region, Latin America and the Caribbean still have to improve their Internet backbones.

Are women more disadvantaged in the information age?

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In a research paper titled “Gender, Information Technology, and Developing Countries: An Analytic Study,” Nancy Hafkin and Nancy Taggart argue that “[w]omen within developing countries are in the deepest part of the [digital] divide, further removed from the information age than are the men whose poverty they share.” Among the obstacles to greater women’s access to ICTs are literacy and education, language, time, geographical location, and social and cultural norms.

Literacy and education are prerequisites in the use of information technologies. However, girls and women especially in developing countries are less likely than men to earn the basic education needed to use information technologies. Similarly, women and other marginalized groups are less likely to learn an international language such as English, which limits them to resources written in their native tongue.

Figure 5. Internet backbones connecting regions worldwide (as of mid-2001)

Women’s time is a resource that is in high demand but in short supply. That women are often burdened with domestic concerns such as childcare and household work keeps them from devoting time to Internet use, which is viewed as a leisure activity.

In developing countries, the geographical location of Internet public access centers also affects women’s access to the Internet. The more popular model of the Internet café tends to alienate women. Internet cafés have predominantly male users. In order to increase access for women, public access centers to the Internet should be located in more gender-neutral areas such as libraries, schools and public markets.

Women’s access to information technologies is also affected by social and cultural norms. Some cultures discourage women from interacting with men outside their family. This limits women’s learning opportunities. One way of addressing this limitation is to hold “women only” days in public access centers and to have “women only” telecenters.

Box 6. Impact of Information Technology on Gender Issues: Trafficking

One of the most sinister aspects of information technology, especially the Internet, is its contribution to the sexual exploitation of women. The amount of sexually explicit material on the Web and the ease of access to it are well known. The most common search performed on any search engine on the Internet is for the word “sex”. Recently, the Internet has become a tool for the prostitution of women, with women being tricked or forced into performing sex acts recorded as digital photos that appear on globally accessible Web sites. There are many ways of selling sex on the Internet. In Brazil customers can book prostitutes on the Web. Global sex syndicates use the Web to recruit women from all over the globe. These point to the globalization of the sex trade.

On the other hand, anti-trafficking activists in Brazil and elsewhere are setting up Web sites to warn women about sex slavery. The MiraMed Institute in Russia operates a Web site, an electronic newsletter and an Internet chat room in Russian to combat trafficking in girls and women from Russia. Thus, information technology is employed by both the profiteers and their opponents.

Source: Nancy Hafkin and Nancy Taggart, “Gender, Information Technology, and Developing Countries: An Analytic Study,” Office of Women in Development [home page online] (June 2001); available from; accessed 4 September 2002.

What about access to the Internet for those with physical disabilities?

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Korea is a leader in the effort to build an information environment that encourages persons with disabilities to use information technologies. In December 2000, Korea passed the Digital Divide Law “to help ensure universal, unlimited access to the telecommunications networks and use of the telecommunications services for low-income earners, rural residents, the disabled, the aged, women, etc., who have difficulties in accessing or using the telecommunications services for economic, regional, physical or social reasons...[to] improve the quality of living for these people and thereby contribute to the balanced growth of the national economy.” [15]

Box 7. Web Access for people with disabilities

Bobby is a comprehensive Web accessibility software tool designed to help expose and repair barriers to accessibility and encourage compliance with existing accessibility guidelines.

Bobby was created at CAST (, a non-profit research and development organization whose goal is to expand opportunities for people with disabilities through the innovative use of computer technology. Bobby is designed for developers to test web pages and generate summary reports highlighting the most critical issues affecting site accessibility before posting to the Web or to Intranets.

CAST has worked closely with the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) to develop an evaluation tool that employs their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and provides page and site evaluation support for developers.

Source: Bobby Worldwide, “About Bobby,” Bobby Worldwide [home page online]; available from; accessed 18 September 2002.

The law sets accessibility guidelines for telecommunications services to help the poor. Other provisions would subsidize PC purchases of poor and disabled people; support the development of access technologies for the disabled; and support infor-mation providers for the disabled, the elderly, the poor, and the fishing and farming industry.

The private sector also participates by providing infrastructure using satellite and solar-power technologies. Telephone lines and broadband Internet access have been installed in lightly populated small islands. [16]

Are people unable to access the Net because of language?

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One aspect of the digital divide is the dominance of one language-English-in the Internet. Sixty-eight percent of Web content is written in English and 40.2% of Internet users access the Internet in English. [17] But non-English speaking users outnumber English-speaking users of the Internet. The most widely spoken language worldwide is Chinese, with more than 1.2 billion speakers (as of 2000). But only 3.9% of Web content is written in Chinese and only 9.8% of Internet users access the Internet in Chinese.

Japanese is only the tenth most widely spoken language (with 126 million people) but Japanese is the second most important language (in terms of content) on the Web. Hindi, Arabic, Bengali and Malay are all in the top 9 most widely spoken languages but these languages do not have a significant share of Web content.

Figure 6. Languages of the Internet


a. Globaware International (

b., as quoted by eMarketer (, March 2002.

c. Global Internet Statistics (, March 2002.

Total World Online Population: 560 million

How does the Internet handle fonts and characters of different languages?

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Different languages are encoded differently, making machine translation difficult.

Thus, the Unicode was established. The Unicode Standard is “a character coding system designed to support the worldwide interchange, processing, and display of the written texts of the diverse languages of the modern world.” [18] Developed, extended and promoted by a non-profit organization, the Unicode Consortium (, the Unicode Standard makes international communication easier. Work at the Unicode Consortium is continuous as it aims to extend the Unicode Standard to accommodate all the characters needed in international communication.

Box 8. The tribulations of the Khmer font on the Internet. [19]

There are many difficulties in using the Khmer language in the Internet. First, the Khmer language represents a relatively small market. There are only about 12 million Khmer speakers in the world. Of the 11.4 million living in Cambodia, less than 10,000 use the Internet. This in turn contributes to the difficulty in creating Khmer content. Second, text entry is difficult. The Khmer alphabet has 150 letters, while a standard keyboard has only 47 keys. Typing Khmer language is highly complex. Almost all consonants, for example, have two different forms, depending on their position within a word. Written Khmer also omits spacing between words. In order to avoid manually inserting a space at the end of every line, the user has to download a special software that adds invisible spaces in between words. Moreover, whereas English only needs one alphabet layer, and French up to two (to accommodate accented letters), the Khmer script uses up to four layers.

There are a variety of initiatives and projects to facilitate the electronic use of the Khmer language. The Open Forum of Cambodia, for example, offers a file conversion program that translates texts from Khmer to Khmer. This may sound odd but it is necessary because there are different Khmer font systems that are incompatible with each other. The UNICODE Consortium, which is in charge of the character coding system to facilitate “worldwide interchange, processing and display of the written texts of the diverse languages of the modern world,” has proposed a solution for the Khmer language. However, there are complaints that the solution is flawed, not user-friendly, and was developed without any official Cambodian input.

Source: Khmer Internet: Cambodia Case Study; available from

How is technology addressing language barriers?

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Various (machine) translation services are available. While their quality is not as good as that of professional (human) translation, translation software continues to be developed and improved. Some of these translation tools are downloadable software; some are automated online services; and others are Web services rendered by human translators.

“One of the things that I’m looking forward to is the ability to translate languages in real time, breaking language barriers. You’ll be able to speak on the telephone in one language, and the caller will be able to hear you in another language. It will allow many people to have immediate access to more information at their fingertips.”
(David K. Allison, technology historian, on the potential of the microprocessor in the next 25 years.)

Human translation is far more accurate than machine translation. But prices for these services are sometimes prohibitive. A translation expert from says the price for their services is based on the languages to be used and the number of words in the text. [20]

What is open source? How does it help narrow the digital divide?

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Open source is a certification standard issued by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) that states that the source code of a computer program is made available free of charge to the general public. The rationale for this movement is that a larger group of programmers will be able to produce more useful and more stable programs for everyone to use if they are able to examine the source code. The concept relies on peer-review and collaborative software development by programmers from around the world.

In contrast, closed software has source codes that are kept confidential by the developer, like a secret recipe. The limitation is that only the developer can make improvements on the software.

Open source software is not only robust but also relatively inexpensive. Countries that are unable to spend on proprietary software and want to uphold intellectual property rights would find open source software very attractive.

Is open source the same as freeware? And shareware?

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Open source, freeware and shareware are terms that are used to describe programs depending on how these programs are distributed.

Programs are called open source when they are distributed with their source code. The OSI uses a more formal definition upon which they base the certification of a program. [21]

Freeware, on the other hand, are programs that are distributed for free. The source code is not necessarily distributed with the software.

Shareware is used to describe a program that is distributed for free but with restrictions. Common restrictions are that the program will work for only 30 or 60 days, or that some features are not fully functional. These restrictions are usually removed once the user pays a fee.

Should developing countries consider using open source?

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Yes. Open source software (OSS) has been touted as a highly viable option for developing countries, for several reasons.

Open source is interoperable. By its very nature, open source software is able to operate in a variety of machines and operating systems. It is also a good foundation for Government Information Systems. It is easier to facilitate data exchange among the databases of various companies or government agencies using open source. Data exchange is crucial in the development of a robust e-government infrastructure.

The cost and copyright issues with open source are fewer. The cost of OSS, if any, is usually just the distribution costs. It can be copied and, generally speaking, used freely with no restrictive copyright problems. While there will be training costs in the use of the software, these will be at local rates.

The adaptability of open source allows it to be used in old computers. The hardware requirements of open source are not high, and existing computers can be used. Furthermore, open source software integrates well with networks running other software.

Open source is reliable.This stems from the fact that it is open to scrutiny by any interested programmer. When bugs are found during the development of an open source program, thousands of programmers from around the world have the potential to examine the code and find a solution (often called a “fix”) in the program’s source code. Moreover, security holes and virus outbreaks are quickly addressed because of access to the source code. This is all done for free by volunteers in the open source community. In contrast, closed source programs rely on in-house program developers to create a fix.

Technical support of open source is outstanding due to the culture of cooperation in the open source community. Volunteers give free technical support to users. Web sites are set up for reporting of bugs and sharing of fixes for free. On the other hand, with commercial software millions of dollars are spent in setting up call centers and technical support facilities. These costs are ultimately transferred to the customer.

What is the disadvantage of open source?

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Unlike proprietary software, OSS is less likely to provide documentation and professional technical support. [22] In general, OSS does not have as much documentation as proprietary software. Neither does OSS have a full-time technical support department to address customer’s questions or complaints. Although the open source community has Web sites that give support to people who have questions, support is given on a voluntary basis. There is no accountability in OSS. An OSS user cannot complain to any particular company when a question or complaint about OSS is left unanswered. Thus, while OSS usually costs less to acquire, the cost of total ownership must be considered when deciding on OSS or proprietary software.

Box 9. Best Technical Support Award Goes to an Open Source Community

In 1997, the International Data Group (IDG), a world leader in Technology media, research and events bestowed the Best Technical Support Award to the Linux Community. Linux is an open source operating system.

As something you can download for free, Linux doesn't come with the support of a commercial entity, but that's exactly why many readers said they like it. “The online support via Usenet, Web pages, and IRC is far better than anything that you can get from a commercial vendor, as far as resolving real-world problems,” wrote one InfoWorld Electric forum participant, who offered the analogy of a Microsoft Access customer calling Microsoft on a hard-to-solve problem. “So imagine, if you will, that the Microsoft staffer on the line directs you to a Web page where you can download free of charge the latest release of SQL Server and a free copy of C++ in order to solve your problem, and then follows this up a week later by emailing you a program that was written in his/her spare time that extends your program in some new way ... `Impossible! [It will] never happen!’ you say ... [but] this sort of thing literally happens hundreds of times, every day of the week, all year long.”

But can free support from other users really be relied upon as much as support that you’ve paid for? Many Linux users insist that it can. “While it seems to defy logic, it coincides with my experience,” another reader wrote. “With most commercial software, you pay and still don't get any support. Many times [the vendors] deny that there are bugs in their software. If I have problems with a widely used freeware program, there is somebody or other on Usenet who knows the answers. Even better, a search may tell you that your question has already been posed and answered. On the other hand, if I am using free software that is not widely used, the author is usually not swamped with questions and hence [is] always willing to answer questions about his or her baby.”

Source: InfoWorld, “Best Technical Support Award goes to an Open Source Community,” InfoWorld [home page online]; available from; accessed 4 September 2002.

What are developing countries doing to develop their information infrastructure?

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The biggest challenge is still how to ensure that adequate and reliable information and communication services are available. Majority of developing countries have low telephone density and low PC penetration. These translate to low Internet penetration.

To develop their information infrastructures, most countries have universal service/ access strategies/policies.

The International Telecommunication Union defines universal service as “the provision of telecommunications services permitting access to a defined minimum service of specified quality to all users everywhere, and, in light of the specific national conditions, at an affordable price. The notion of universal service also includes service to disadvantaged users.”

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has established a regulatory framework for basic telecommunications services that includes a set of principles that signatories should follow when developing their universal service policies. [23] The universal service core principles include: [24] (1) transparency; (2) non-discrimination; (3) competitive neutrality; (4) non-burdensome application; and (5) affordable rates.

The concept of universal access has also been introduced in the development literature. Universal access has its roots in the US Communications Act of 1934, which covers telephone, telegraph and radio services and aims to ensure adequate facilities at reasonable charges. The law aims to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin or gender.

The advent of the information society requires the extension of the concept of universal access beyond telephone, telegraph and radio services. Technology has introduced communication and information products and services that require a higher level of skills and abilities, such as the mobile phone or the Internet. But in essence, universal access remains a target for the quality of delivery of certain technologies.

Universal access is a goal that a country can define in many ways-for example, in terms of the ratio of telephones to people and in terms of a percentage of the population within a certain distance or travel time from a phone (e.g., the country’s entire population is within 20 kms or 1 hour travel of a telephone).

Box 10. Malaysia Phones Home

Malaysia has made tremendous strides in providing universal access to telecommunication services. From less than 50,000 main telephone lines in 1960, the Malaysian network grew to over 4.5 million by 2000. Teledensity (main telephone lines per 100 inhabitants) has grown 34 times over the same period, from 0.6 to 19.9. The rise in teledensity has paralleled Malaysia’s impressive economic growth.

Malaysia has also made impressive strides in household telephone penetration, the basic measurement of universal service. Less than 10% of Malaysian families had a fixed telephone line 20 years ago whereas by the end of 2000 that figure had risen to 69%.

Malaysia has taken a number of steps to reduce discrepancies in nationwide telephone access. A rural public telephone programme has been successful in installing at least one public telephone in all of Malaysia’s 4,000 or so villages. The country’s telephone tariffs are also pro-rural in that fixed line rentals are cheaper for inhabitants of Sabah and Sarawak and those connected to small exchanges.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) proposes to create a fund to which all operators would contribute based on their revenue. Telekom Malaysia Berhad (TMB) is one of five major telecommunications companies. Designated as the Universal Service Obligation (USO) provider under the previous universal service regime, TMB receives contributions from the fund for providing service in uneconomic areas. The MCMC is proposing that other operators assume this responsibility in areas where TMB is not present.

The MCMC distinguishes between collective and individual access. Collective access is through public locations such as payphones, whereas individual access is availability of service in the home. Priority should be given to collective access, says MCMC, and Internet access should be included in the definition of universal service.

Source: “Multimedia Malaysia: Internet Case Study”; available from

The idea of universal service is not new. What are they doing differently today?

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Today countries are looking at a market-based approach to expanding information and communications infrastructure and services.

The telecommunication sector has traditionally been seen as a natural monopoly [25] . In the past, many government-operated telecommunications facilities established a State-run monopoly as part of the strategy for jump-starting national telecom infrastructure.

Recently, however, government-owned telecom monopolies have come under criticism. Competition, now considered as one of the most important principles in telecommunications reforms, is projected to encourage the flow of private capital, which is likely to bring down the prices of telecom services. Competition drives telecoms to widen service areas to untapped markets. This helps improve the deployment of telecommunications to niche sectors that a monopoly may refuse to serve altogether. Last but not the least, innovations in telecommunications technologies are more easily deployed in a competitive market where players need to set themselves apart from the other players.

Does liberalization work?

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In April 2000, Singapore opened the telecommunications market to full competition as part of the move to strengthen the competitiveness of Singapore as the region’s leading communications and information technology hub. It is estimated that within three years following full market liberalization, the total investment from the new activities (excluding 3G mobile and fixed wireless investments) will be about US$1.8 billion. It is further estimated that some 2,500 new jobs will be created. [26]

In 1995, the Telecommunications Act of the Philippines was enacted, setting a policy of competition and liberalization for the telecommunications sector. The years that followed showed a marked increase in the number of main lines installed, [27] with the number more than doubling from 1.4 million in 1995 to 3.35 million in 1996. This figure increased to 5.77 million in 1997. This striking increase in penetration was brought about by the entry of new telecommunications companies in a competitive arena.

These are only two examples of the positive effect of introducing competition in the telecommunications markets.

What are governments doing to improve their national information infrastructure?

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Many governments in the Asia Pacific have developed national information infrastructure plans.

Box 11. Competition in Estonia

When Estonia regained independence in 1991, the government embarked on an ambitious project to bring the nation into the digital age. Today, Estonia boasts of one of the most modern telecommunications networks in Europe, low connectivity costs and high rates of computer literacy, even by Western European standards. Twenty-eight percent of Estonia’s population is connected to the Internet.

Estonia’s strategic investment in wiring the entire country has led to an explosion in ICT applications in banking, education, health, transport and public administration. Through a progressive de-monopolization of the telecommunications industry-mostly through the liberalization of the wireless sector-a more aggressive and diversified approach to the advancement of ICT-related solutions has emerged. These varied options-combining wireless, lease lines and fiber-optic networks-allow for a sustained roll out of infrastructure and improved rural connectivity.

Source: Creating a Development Dynamic: Final Report of the Digital Opportunity Initiative; available from

Singapore is already into its fourth ICT development plan. From 1981 to 1985, Singapore implemented its National Computerisation Plan with a focus on a Civil Service Computerisation Program and on developing the IT industry and IT manpower. The years 1986 to 1991 saw the extension of government IT systems to the private sector under the National IT Plan. IT 2000, implemented between 1992 and 2000, called for transforming Singapore into an Intelligent Island. The current plan, Infocomm 21, 2000 - 2005, envisions Singapore as a global infocomm capital, e-economy and e-society.

Japan has created an IT Strategy Council to develop a strategy and plan on infostructure development. [28] Priority will be placed on the following five policy areas:

1. Promotion of High-Speed and Ultra-High-Speed Internet Infrastructure

2. Digitization of School Education and Reinforcement of Human Resource Development

3. Enhancement of Network Content

4. Promotion of Electronic Government and Electronic Local Government

5. Reinforcement of International Activities

Thailand has also been moving toward becoming an information-oriented society. Its National IT Policy focuses on three pillars of IT development. [29] First, invest in the nation’s national information infrastructure. Second, invest in the improvement and development of human resources. The third pillar is a government computerization program which runs parallel to the more active role the government plays in facilitating the country’s IT development.

Thailand’s National IT Policy, IT2000 [30] , also focuses on the need to provide universal telecommunications service to both urban and rural areas. This is supported by a telecommunications master plan that attempts to address three themes: liberalization, privatization, and the establishment of a telecommunications regulatory regime. There are also efforts to promote computer utilization by reducing import tariffs for computers (hardware and software) and imposing mandatory computer literacy for civil servants.

What about broadband deployment?

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The various government efforts at hastening broadband deployment fall under three categories.. [31] These are:

1. The light touch involves minimal government intervention in the private sector’s expansion of broadband networks and services. This approach focuses on transparent regulatory frameworks to encourage competition and open access. Government commits additional funds to skills improvement, education and training, and occasionally research and development. Switzerland and New Zealand use this approach.

2. The cooperative approach focuses on reducing the digital divide by targeting areas and groups where market forces will not adequately address disparities in access. This approach acknowledges that private sector broadband services will provide business centers, major cities and other more affluent areas with broadband even without the assistance or intervention of the government. Thus, the government should be able to focus more on access in poorer rural areas. The government may also focus more on distance education or telemedicine. The United States, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom use the cooperative approach.

3. Comprehensive National Broadband Plans are nationwide efforts to create an IT proficient populace through infrastructure development and training. Involving government and industry-wide coordination, this approach emphasizes universal broadband access, transparent regulation and extensive education and training programs. Korea, Norway, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan have comprehensive national information infrastructure programs.

How can governments promote convergence?

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In most developing countries, the obstacles to convergence are more legal and regulatory than technological. While the technology to make convergence happen is readily available, existing legal and regulatory provisions-which were enacted at a time when communication technologies were separate, distinct and discrete (i.e., radio vis-à-vis television; broadcast vis-à-vis cable transmissions, among others)impede its growth.

An example of a legislative approach to promoting convergence is the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998 of Malaysia [32] (Table 4). This legislation provides for an institutional and regulatory framework to harness the potential of convergence to drive the multimedia industry. The Malaysian model provides for generic main legislation, with specific issues addressed in regulations but sub-ject to regular review. It created a new a horizontal licensing framework for the old telecoms and broadcasters as well as the online service providers that is not based on the technology employed but on the intentions of the parties in provid-ing the types of services concerned. In addition, the process of deregulation was greatly expedited with the emphasis on access, interconnection, inter-operabil-ity of networks and services, competition and quality of service. All of these industries, some of which were already beginning to overlap, were then regulated under the CMA (Table 4).

Figure 7: Table 4. Industry categories [33] of Malaysia's Communications and Multimedia Act

Source: Syed Hussein Mohamed, New Regulatory Framework For Communications And Multimedia Sector: Subsidiary Legislation (Communications and Multimedia Commission); available from

What are the regional efforts in developing regional information infrastructure?

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In November 2000, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN; put together an e-ASEAN Framework Agreement to help de-velop the competitiveness of the ASEAN ICT sector, reduce the digital divide, pro-mote cooperation between the public and private sectors and promote the liberaliza-tion of trade in ICT products, ICT services and investments to support the e-ASEAN initiative.

The e-ASEAN Framework focuses on the implementation of five key initiatives:

1. Facilitation of the establishment of the ASEAN Information Infrastructure

2. Facilitation of the growth of electronic commerce

3. Liberalization and facilitation of trade in ICT products and ICT services, and of investments

4. Capacity building and e-society

5. E-government

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC; Telecommunications and Information Working Group (TEL) has established a Program of Action for Information and Communications Infrastructure. Its initiatives include:

1. promoting the deployment of advanced, secure and reliable information infrastructure

2. encouraging greater build out of the Internet to promote greater broadband accessibility, availability and use,

3. examining the impact of the Internet and broadband accessibility, availability and use on the economy, especially on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs);

4. facilitating R&D activities and analyses (financial, technical and policy) of technologies and applications to meet ICT access needs of the APEC region,

5. strengthening its participation and cooperation with the private/business sector in the development of information communications infrastructures and services

6. promoting further the cooperation among governments, businesses, academic communities and social institutions in meeting these challenges;

7. studying and undertaking collaborative projects to advance the implementation of next generation networks and technologies; and

8. continuing to support cooperative activities for better sharing and utilization of the information infrastructure among member economies.

To complement these goals, human capacity building is also on the TEL agenda. One of TEL’s goals is to triple the number of people with access to the Internet. It aims to enhance cooperation among training and development organizations, promote e-commerce related training programs and experiences, and provide more opportunities in ICT. The TEL also intends to implement training projects specifically addressing the concerns of developing economies.

Also, at the Brunei APEC Summit in November 2000 the e-APEC Task Force was created to develop an e-APEC Strategy that identifies the necessary policy environment and specifies appropriate goals and actions. The e-APEC Strategy is a forward-looking, long term and action-oriented plan with three pillars. [34] First, it seeks to create an environment for strengthening market structures and institutions. Second, it aims to facilitate an environment for infrastructure investment and technology development. Lastly, it strives to enhance human capacity building and promote entrepreneurship.

Box 12. African Information Society Initiative (AISI)

In May 1996 the ECA Conference of Ministers adopted a resolution entitled “Implementation of the African Information Society Initiative.” Its action framework calls for the elaboration and implementation of national information and communication infrastructure plans to include the development of institutional frameworks; human, information and technological resources in all African countries; and the pursuit of priority strategies, programmes and projects which can assist in the sustainable build up of an information society in African countries. The African ministers are convinced that building Africa’s information society will help Africa to accelerate its development plans, stimulate growth, and provide new opportunities in education, trade, health care, job creation and food security, and thereby help African countries to leapfrog stages of development and raise their standards of living.

The present programs of the AISI cater to different aspects of the development of the Region’s Information Infrastructure:

  • The National Information and Communication Infrastructure (NICI) provides the framework for integrating ICT strategies and plans into national and sectoral development plans to facilitate the achievement of national and sectoral development priorities and goals.
  • Scan-ICT is an initiative that aims to build African capability to collect and manage key information needed to support the growing investment in ICTs. The goal is to create a pan-African ICT network that will be coordinated and supported by an observatory/research institute.
  • Information Technology Centre for Africa (ITCA) focuses on making policy and decision makers aware of the many benefits of ICTs for accelerating the socio-economic development of the continent.

Source: “About the African Information Society Initiative,” AISI [home page online]; available from; accessed 18 September 2002.

Will developing countries be able to catch up with developed countries with respect to ICT infrastructure?

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Developing countries have unique advantages as they build their ICT infrastructure “late in the game”. These are:

Knowledge of best practices. Developing countries have the advantage of knowing the best practices from countries that developed their infrastructure earlier. This knowledge is important for avoiding major mistakes that have occurred in the past.

Fully developed technology. Developing countries also have the advantage of choosing fully developed hardware and software. Customers who use technology or software that is prematurely deployed incur costs in maintenance or, worse, incompatibility. Developing countries will benefit by using reliable and mature technology.

Lower cost.As the technology of certain hardware matures, the production of the hardware further improves. This translates to a corresponding decrease in cost.

For developing countries, the question is not whether to build and/or improve their information infrastructure. The question is “when” and “how”.