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Information and communication Technologies
To develop and integrate the promotion of information and communication technologies in European Community development policy as a tool to achieve the main objectives in this field.
Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 14 December 2001 on information and communication technologies in development. 'The role of ICTs in EC development policy' [COM(2001) 770 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The digital revolution that has taken place in recent years has enormous repercussions. information and communication technologies (ICTs) offer substantial opportunities to facilitate and accelerate the development of the poorest countries. However, if they are used poorly, they may exacerbate the marginalisation of developing countries.
The international community has already tackled the subject and acknowledged the existence of a digital gap or rift between developed and developing countries, which could hinder the development of the latter. The European Community, for its part, has already adopted initiatives in this field, but not systematically.
The term ICT covers a wide range of services, applications, technologies, equipment and software, in other words tools such as telephony and the Internet, distance learning, televisions, computers, networks and the software required to use these technologies.
The use of ICTs in developing countries
The current level of access to these technologies in developing countries remains very low. For example, in 1998, the rate of telecom access per 100 inhabitants was 72.1 for countries in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) and 7.8 for non-OECD countries. Uneven access to ICTs exacerbates inequalities between and within countries as rural populations, for example, often have poorer access than urban populations.
Developing countries must face many challenges in attempting to increase their capacity in this area. This does not only involve the financial obstacles that hinder the purchase of services, equipment, etc. A global approach covering all the aspects linked to ICT access and use must be adopted. It is now necessary to increase the purchasing power of the poor, train and build human capacity, raise levels of literacy, improve electricity supplies and access to capital, and attract investment to ensure that the countries make full use of ICTs.
There are also other constraints, particularly the lack of an appropriate, clear and coherent policy in developing countries that tackles all aspects of this field, the absence of an appropriate regulatory framework to reduce inequalities and resolve certain problems, as well as high tariffs on imported products.
Nonetheless, the two main obstacles are the weaknesses in the availability of the necessary infrastructures and the shortcomings in affordable pricing for services and equipment.
Framework for action
The budget for public development aid is limited and well below the amount required to fill the digital gap. As a result, the private sector is going to have to play an important role in this field. Underdevelopment in this field is not, however, the main problem of certain poor communities, which often suffer from a lack of essential resources such as drinking water and electricity. The development of ICTs is therefore not going to be a priority field for the European Community's development assistance. However, these technologies are an important tool in combating poverty and, once integrated in development policy, they may also facilitate the implementation of development assistance and make it more effective.
The Commission outlines some key political issues for the development of a framework for action in the field of ICTs:
ownership of initiatives by users
Direct participation of the population and ownership of the project must be ensured;
entry of additional market players
The opening-up of the sector to competition is an important element. Greater competition may lead to a fall in network access prices and infrastructure costs. Healthy competition also attracts essential investment;
independent regulators and institutional capacity building
Capacity building is required in fields such as trade and competition and the independence of the regulatory authorities must be guaranteed in order to ensure fair competition;
adoption of clear and transparent rules
This involves regulating the market effectively and maintaining a balance between the benefits for consumers on the one hand and service providers on the other;
ensuring universal access
This involves a range of basic services available to all at an affordable price;
- improving public access to ICTs (via public payphones, for example);
- improving Internet connectivity;
- developing specific infrastructures (including basic infrastructures such as electricity);
- developing and stimulating the private sector in order to encourage investment;
- developing human resources to be able to benefit from the new technologies;
- ensuring that the content is tailored to the local users (languages, subjects, images used on an Internet site, for example).
Development of ICTs and future policy of the European Community
The European Community is integrating this aspect into its existing development policy as a tool for its implementation, especially in the following six priority fields:
trade and development
Providing technical assistance to facilitate the participation of local enterprises in trade through development in the field of ICTs (institutional capacity building, for example);
regional integration and cooperation
Supporting regional cooperation to enable the countries to benefit fully from ICTs (supporting regional networks, developing common rules, etc.);
support to macroeconomic policies and promotion of equitable access to social services
Encouraging the use of ICTs in the management of public finances and information on social services. Supporting the role of ICTs in sectors such as education where they may be used to facilitate access to teaching via distance learning programmes, for example;
Developing the integration of infrastructures and the incorporation of ICTs in air and maritime transport;
food security and sustainable rural development
Developing programmes for the collection and dissemination of data on farmers' activities, natural resources, natural disasters, etc.;
institutional capacity building
Supporting the creation of autonomous regulatory authorities for the telecommunications sector and promoting the inclusion of ICTs in government or NGO programmes in the area of democracy, human rights and good governance.
Initiatives in this field are planned within the framework of the country strategy papers and regional strategy papers which are drawn up by the Commission and the authorities of the country or region concerned.