Formulating national ICT Policies : A blueprint for success !!

Presentation1Many Governments in the emerging markets are highlighting the pivotal role of ICT in their socio-economic development. The main objective of national ICT policy is to balance the benefits and the risks of expanded ICT use in a way that is consistent with national development goals. The services sector has become increasingly ICT-intensive, and the knowledge sector is largely dependent on ICTs. ICTs enhance productivity across all sectors, including government.

In the past, there have been too many examples of the ICT arriving first, with the solution looking for a problem.Technology is an enabler and ICTs can become an enabler but it is imperative that this is guided by an information society strategy.National ICT policies typically concern themselves with readying the country, its economy and society for the information society. This usually cuts across a range of sectors, including education and health, finance, small and medium business and government (e.g., developing e-government capacity and services). The move towards an Information Society is distinguished by the following characteristics:

• Growing dependence on ICTs: As ICTs become more pervasive in business and personal contexts, people become more dependent on them for their livelihoods and for fulfilling their social and recreational needs. Being unable to access or use ICTs can become a serious deprivation;

• Growing ICT sectors: The provision of ICTs and related services forms a sizeable sector of many economies. Increasingly, developing countries are introducing high-level ICT strategies that aim to develop this sector of their own economies as well as using ICT as a tool in other sectors. One study for a mobile network operator has suggested that a 10 per cent increase in mobile penetration in a country can grow the gross domestic product by 0.6 per cent.

• More use of ICTs: Economic development and growth entail a shift in the proportions of national output, away from the primary sector of agriculture, through the secondary and tertiary sectors of industry and services, towards the new information economy.

ICT policies can be integrated into sectoral as well as broad national policies; for example countries may commit to introducing ICTs into schools in order to expand educational opportunities and increase the supply of ICT-literate graduates; they may extend internet access to rural clinics to improve the delivery of health services. As the use of the internet expands within countries a host of specific issues emerge: privacy and security, intellectual property rights , access to government information are examples.

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) objectives and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), include a global partnership for development whose target is to provide citizens with all the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications, in cooperation with the private sector. The development-strategy-led approach now points to the inclusion of ICT goals in Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, in order to ensure the availability of ICT as and when needed for poverty reduction. There is some debate around whether and how ICT deployment assists in reaching the MDGs, but the following points seem clear:

• ICTs can help in implementing many initiatives that contribute directly to reaching development goals even when they do not necessarily contribute directly themselves;

• ICTs have impact that depend on the technical, economic, administrative and social environment, so general assessments of their contributions without considering the local context are difficult;

• ICTs are increasingly understood to be complementary to other development imperatives and not to be traded off against them.

The future regulation of the ICT sector depends upon reliable studies ( using best practice research and analysis toolsets ) into the ICT needs of the population and the maintenance of a database of relevant statistics. Such research/analysis must achieve ( but is not limited ) to the following key objectives:

• Evaluate the usage of ICT by various segments of the population: Households , Enterprises and Government institutions
• Create a reliable database of statistics on ICT usage so as to measure the impact of Government policy measures , and guide future development of ICT and Telecommunications via regulatory interventions
• Supplement the current statistics provided by the telcos on fixed and mobile Internet usage to assess the usage of ICT services by private and public sector.
• Examine various developments in the rollout of broadband infrastructure (wired and wireless ) to model the impact on ICT diffusion in the country.

The research study must encompass a number of global best practice methodologies to constitute the underlying data and analysis necessary for the development of ICT usage database such as :

• Background study and database: This is a detailed desk study that summarizes the geographic, demographic, socio-economic and cultural composition of the country. Ideally, the database and analysis should be broken down to the smallest local administrative level for which it is feasible to collect data. This is often at the district level, but in populous countries, or ones where data is freely available, data to sub-district level is desirable. Household income and expenditure data is especially useful in evaluating the ICT status.

• Telecoms and ICT sector review: This encompasses an inventory of existing infrastructure and services around the country, but also includes a review of the policy and regulatory environment for ICT, and possibly even the investment and business environment. Usually, the best approach is to interview the ICT industry players directly who will provide data on current network services and reach, as well as future plans, views on market trends, and their opinions on universal access, rural communications and progression towards universal service .

• Coverage and GIS maps: The information gathered from reviews and studies can be represented with coverage and GIS maps. However, because the ICT market is evolving rapidly, data can quickly be out of date. The focus of the ICT sector review should be to enable a policy formulation based on an understanding of the current situation and near future developments; it does not require absolute accuracy. It is nevertheless, helpful to set up a process and structure that allows for regular reviews (e.g., annually) of the ICT sector and related data.

• International review: Policy makers benefit from researching and discussing current best practice and trends for ICTs , especially of countries that have comparable characteristics and challenges.

• Demand studies: These are particularly valuable as they gather information from the intended beneficiaries of the ICT policy in regards to their actual needs. By investigating affordability, crucial information is gathered to model the subsidy requirements for various ICT objectives.

Ultimately any research study must satisfy the Government’s need to create a legal framework that will direct investment into the development of ICT services in the country.In any ICT development initiative the following parameters must be factored into the final recommendations :

• Regulatory measures that create an environment more conducive to competitive network expansion or infrastructure sharing;
• Fiscal measures that will make communications service and hardware more affordable to low-income users;
• Enabling activities, such as promotion, advertisement and capacity building that highlight the opportunities available to people, communities and organizations to take advantage of the services offered in the competitive market.

Manuel Castells, in his three-volume work on the information age , has suggested that a networked society is one in which “the entire planet is organised around telecommunicated networks of computers at the heart of information systems and communication processes.” This dependence on the power of information reaches us all “. Furthermore he states , “the availability and use of information and communication technologies are a prerequisite for economic and social development in our world. They are the functional equivalent of electricity in the industrial era.” Castells goes so far as to conclude that ICTs can allow countries to “leapfrog stages of economic growth by being able to modernise their production systems and increase their competitiveness faster than in the past.”

Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )

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