IT Revolution for Developing Countries
(Bridging the Digital Divide)

Recommendation for cooperative and strengthened relationship between the two regions toward the 21st century:
  • Create a FEALAC Working Group on IT to assist the identification and adoption of best practice initiatives, including the utilization of outcomes from existing fora

1. Actual Situation

(1) East Asia

Many countries in East Asia have not yet recovered from the Asian economic crisis of 1997. Given the prevailing economic circumstances the uptake of technology generally, and IT specifically, by governments, business and individuals has slowed dramatically and in some cases ceased altogether.

However, East Asia is not homogenous. There are some very advanced countries with wide uptake of IT such as Japan, Korea, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand. For other countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos IT has made minimal inroads. Between these extremes lies countries such as China, Thailand, and Malaysia with island of high IT uptake surrounded by seas of IT poverty.

(2) Latin America

IT maintained its growth trend in 2000, both globally and throughout the region. Constant technological innovation with respect to Internet access has aided in the expansion of on-line trade, thus enabling larger segments of the population to have the possibility to share in the benefits of on-line commercial transactions and enabling companies - including small and medium size enterprises - to become part of the process, with an attendant increase in competitiveness and scale.

We can mention a number of positive trends in IT in LA: a large increase in access to information technologies by people of many countries; substantial growth in local language Internet content; development of entirely new industries with substantial positive employment impacts; increase availability of risk capital to support the realization of the dreams of new entrepreneurs; and technological developments which may accelerate broader access to the benefits of business-to-consumer and business-to-business EC. Some important Government programs are being implemented, such as Uruguay's Project Mercurio, Connectivity Education Program, Brazil's Information Society Program, Colombia's The Leap to Internet, Costa Rica's Border to Border Program and others. Despite of these positive trends, which reflect in some way the effect of successful government policies and private actions, much more work needs to be done.
    IT use represents significant social and economic potential for all countries of Latin America. Dynamic national strategies to develop infrastructure, to enhance access, to increase participation in IT use, and to create the legal foundations for it. At the same time, since IT use is inherently borderless and global in scope, measures to enable and promote domestic growth must also be contemplated to allow the effective use of IT between countries.

Digital Divide - International Trends

Region Internet users as % of population
1998 2000
Latin America and the Caribbean 0.8 3.2
East Asia and the Pacific 0.5 2.3
South Asia 0.04 0.4
World 2.4 6.7
USA 26.3 54.3

UNDP 2001: Human Development Report

2. Common Issues/Concerns

The issues related to the theme of information and communication technologies and their implications in terms of widening the social/digital divide between developed and developing countries has been examined in many multilateral fora recently. The debate that we hold in FEALAC necessarily must take into consideration the situation of the international debate concerning these matters. We register that, in the ambit of UNO, the Secretary General established a group of specialists in the theme to help in the preparation activities for the constitution of a task force incumbent of discussing the new digital era technologies under the point of view of the economic and social development. Similar initiatives are appearing in other fora such as the Meeting of South American Presidents, G-Rio, UNESCO, APEC, Mercosur, among others. The last Summit Meeting of Chiefs of States and Governments of G-15, which took place in Jakarta recently, had mainly discussed this issue, highlighting its priority to the Developing Countries. We also register the existence of important regional contributions to this debate as well as documents elaborated in UNO organisms such as the ECOSOC (High Level Segment), the General Assembly and others, which contain the points of view of developing countries in the issue. It can be noticed that there is a growing consensus that the "digital/social divide" issues must be priority both in national and international agendas. FEALAC should make resort to the debate that has been taken in other for a, such as:

ASEAN e-Commerce Initiative
APEC Telecommunications Working Group
G 15 Summit - Jakarta 2001
Free Trade Area of America e- commerce Group
World Bank Initiatives - Emerging Markets Internet Fund; East Asia and Pacific Regional Information Network (EARPIN); Latin American Broadband Network

Within Asia there are issues around the provision of adequate infrastructure within some countries to enable the widespread adoption and utilization of IT. For example, the connection and constant supply of electricity is not guaranteed; and there are limited telephone landlines to enable connectivity.

Education and literacy levels vary across East Asia and there is no common language to facilitate the adoption and usage of IT.

Geographic spread is also an issue impacting on the cost of providing basic IT infrastructure. For example, the geography and population density of Singapore compared to Australia, and the geographic spread of Indonesia.

Latin America faces the challenges that lied ahead in this field. There is an urgent need of increasing cooperation for development, so that these developing countries could create the social and economic conditions necessary for IT to contribute towards overcoming income disparities, employment, education and development within and among the countries of this region, with the indispensable help of the developing countries.

Governments also have important roles to play respecting these issues, whether within their own countries and/or globally, which entails cooperation, information dissemination and promotion activities, working together with the private sector, and the international organizations in a real and effective multisector partnership.

At its most fundamental level the growths of IT use is grounded in creating the right conditions for telecommunications and Internet growth. This growth needs as a precondition the realization of the social and economic potential of Internet the possession of an adequate and affordable telecommunications infrastructure. While the number of IT users in LA is growing rapidly there are still segments of the population that do not have ready access to the telecommunications infrastructure and, therefore, to Internet. The challenge for each individual government is how to encourage the development of a vibrant, high quality, low cost telecommunications which all citizens have the opportunity to access.

Access also relies on the existence of adequate levels of digital literacy since the knowledge, skills and familiarity of citizens with computer technologies will determine their ability to take advantage of its. Measures to expand digital literacy throughout will not only increase the overall growth of IT but also tend to assure a more even distribution of its benefits within Latin American and many Asian societies. A number of Latin-American countries have therefore placed high priority on computer awareness, education and training as a means of promotion access to the networks and technologies.

  • It is of utmost importance to clearly indicate how the private sector can participate in the "burden sharing" of costs related to the establishment and expansion of connectivity and access infrastructure in developing countries. Policies that result in the reallocation of scarce public funds from developing countries to the benefit of the private sector should not be stimulated, in principle. The notion of a real and effective multi-sector partnership should be promoted instead.
  • The characteristic of multidimensionality of information technologies is not immediately evident. There is a widespread tendency, mainly in developing countries, to face these technologies merely as a branch of the telecommunications sector. It is necessary, then, to divulge the ICTs emphasizing their multiple usage and potentials: as technologies that can contribute decisively to the sustained development; as tools to the promotion of business, particularly important to small and medium size enterprises; as means to increase efficiency and quality in providing public services, etc. According to these considerations, the field of education should be highlighted as far as many developing countries are concerned.

Main debate issues:

Economic Political Social Cross cutting
Infrastructure - limited number of fixed telephone lines High level commitment Common language Human resource development
Market domination by MNCs Commitment by the international community to assist developing countries adopt/utilize IT High levels of youth unemployment Transfer outcomes from other international for a - APEC; ASEAN
Cost sharing between public/private of adoption of new technology Appropriate level of regulation(s) to facilitate uptake of IT Population density Information sharing between and within regions
Wealth distribution Who has responsibility: self-responsibility vs. developed countries? Literacy and general education levels Little (or no) diffusion of new technologies from developed to developing countries
Access to investment capital International cooperation for development
Creation of database(s) of Govt. Technology Initiatives
Inefficient use of scarce economic resources by developing countries Role of Govt. vs. role of private sector?
Who takes the leadership role?

FEALAC Forum of Experts in IT

International focal point for the consideration of IT issues in developing countries
Multifunctional dimension of the IT utilization by developing countries

3. Some suggested measures to overcome the issues/problems and perspectives towards the future

Governments, International Organizations, development agencies and Aid Banks should work together to obtain the following objectives:

  • Create FEALAC Working Group on IT and develop a database of FEALAC member's IT and related initiatives - to assist the identification and adoption of best practice initiatives.
  • Exchange part or all of a developing country's debt for investment in IT, in line of the program "debt for nature" of the Government of Costa Rica.
  • Adopt the ECOSOC concept of the development of IT, leading to the enhancement of basic services and infrastructure such as education, health, and self-governance.
  • Increase investment in basic education facilities and services such as schools, teacher training, equipment, and entrepreneurs.
  • Use existing bilateral relationships and linkages to identify and acquire appropriate technologies, including IT.
  • Raising the broader community awareness of the benefits of IT; including the overall contribution made to economic growth and well being.
  • Adoption of consistent, predictable regulatory frameworks to facilitate private sector investment in IT infrastructure, product and services.

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