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Home  > Gender & ICT  > Policies > Article

Global Information Society Watch: First report looks at ICT policy’s impact
| 17 May 2007

A new watchdog report monitoring promises made by governments and the United Nations to ensure that information technology is used to benefit millions of people, will be launched in Geneva on May 22.

The fruits of the information technology ’revolution’ are unevenly distributed between countries and within societies. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo it is claimed that as little as 2.5% of the population owns a telephone, whereas neighbouring Nigeria has one of the fastest growing IT markets in Africa. In India, a burgeoning technology industry has failed to provide phones or internet to vast rural areas.

The gap is not only “digital”

The reasons for the inequalities are complex but, claim the editors of the report - the Association for Progressive Communications and the Third World Institute - “experience shows that the status quo prevails unless citizens actively demand change from their governments. A ‘Global Information Society Watch’ is needed to make governments and international organisations accountable.”

Launch of first Global Information Society Watch report

The Global Information Society Watch 2007 report - the first in a series of annual reports - looks at the state of the field of information and communication technology (ICT) policy at local and global levels and particularly how policy impacts on the lives of people living in developing countries.

Studies of the ICT policy situation in twenty-two countries from four regions are featured: Africa (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda); Asia (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and the Philippines); Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru); and Eastern Europe (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania), with one report from a Western European country (Spain).

The report concludes that when it comes to ICTs for development, there are some conspicuous similarities between countries. Excluding Spain, the other twenty-one countries each show obvious evidence of the “digital divide” which impacts on the majority of people negatively. According to Brazilian authors RITS, the absence of a people-orientated policy framework in Brazil runs the risk of condemning the vast majority of people to “eternal disconnection”.

The report also includes provocative, analytical essays on five international institutions (including the ITU, ICANN and the World Intellectual Property Organisation) questioning the extent to which they allow all stakeholders to participate in their processes. There is a special section on how to measure progress.

“This report is an important effort at a critical time,” says Markus Kummer, executive coordinator of the Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). “It is of utmost importance to know the extent to which the people affected have a voice in the policy-making organisations. Participation of all stakeholders in policy processes is a key element of good global governance. In this sense, the report will also be good input to the IGF in its continuing work on a development agenda for internet governance and the special emphasis being placed on capacity building for all stakeholders. More so, while so much attention is being put on the effort to overcome the inequities in global information access it is important to make sure that the people who need this access are actually served by those efforts.”

"There is a lack of ICT-oriented indexes which focus on inclusion and exclusion in ICT policy decisions. Global Information Society Watch is a serious attempt to bridge this gap," says Rikke Frank Jørgensen, senior adviser at the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

Connecting the dots to form the big ICT policy picture

Alice Wanjira Gitau is part of KICTANet, a citizen-coalition that has worked critically with the Kenyan government to ensure issues of universal access and consumer rights are being addressed in Kenya’s first national ICT policy. “Rather than just publishing statistics,” she comments, “this new report provides an opportunity to share examples of the road travelled in policy-making, which will hopefully reduce the risk of following inappropriate paths.” “While international organisations and research institutions regularly churn out reports packed with data about the diffusion of ICTs and offer mainstream assessments of policy trends, they generally devote little attention to what all this means for the global public interest. Global Information Society Watch [...] connects the dots between national and global-level trends and gives readers a ‘big picture’ understanding of where we are heading and the risks and opportunities that entails,” explains Dr William J. Drake, director of the “Information Revolution and Global Governance” project, Graduate Institute for International Studies (Switzerland).

More citizen involvement in policy-making is key

“Increase in access to ICTs will not reduce poverty,” state APC and ITeM in their introduction to the 2007 report. “But there is a real danger that lack of access to ICTs can deepen existing social exclusion and create new forms of exclusion. In this context we believe it is essential for civil society networks to participate in and watch over ICT policy processes at the global, regional and national levels.”

The whole report

Download the complete Global Information Society Watch 2007 Report (4 MB)

or read online: Global Information Society Watch 2007

Editors: APC and ITeM

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