As the global digital divide narrows, who is being left behind?

ABSTRACT: There is a sense that information and communications technologies (ICT) have the potential to give people the freedom they need to lead the lives they value. Papers published in this journal consider how ICTs are the means that enable people to achieve their ends of better livelihoods. This line of research builds upon the work of Amartya Sen’s (1999) book entitled Development as Freedom, where development is seen as the process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy. In particular, Andersson, Gro¨nlund and Wicander’s Special Issue in this journal (2012) illustrates how development can be seen as freedom when the capabilities by which people are able to achieve their ends are expanded through the use of ICTs. If people have the freedom to achieve the aims they value, then they will be able to lead better lives through their use of ICTs. The outcome of such better livelihoods can be seen in terms of human, social and economic development. The papers in this issue continue to build upon this discovery by considering the role of ICTs in enabling development as freedom. It discusses how the Internet may or may not support freedoms to achieve better livelihoods and delves deeper into the challenges faced by people whose lives are changed for better or for worse by their use of ICTs

Keywords: Information and Communication Technologies, socio-economic development, International Telecommunications Union, Civic engagement, Global market

Assessment of the social factors in information and communication technology access and use

ABSTRACT: There is evidence to suggest that use of information and communication technology (ICT) can play an important role in the growth of small businesses and their communities, countries, and regions. In this sense, ICT can be employed to bring about increased competitiveness if it enables businesses to create new jobs and increase productivity and sales through access to new markets and administrative efficiencies. These outcomes can be achieved through measurable improvements in the lives of people living with limited resources to sustain themselves. It is often the access to ICTs that enables broader development objectives to be realized. In particular, social development objectives, which concern the provision of services such as education and healthcare, can be realized through judicious application of ICTs. It is often the ways in which ICTs are used that can potentially enable people to lead better lives. However, these gains are not always realized, nor are they within the reach of those who need them the most. The papers in this issue recognize an important fact: ICT implementations are influenced by social processes that determine the outcomes and often have political ramifications. Although diverse in their methods and analyses, these papers all provide unique insight into well known yet not always well understood social factors in ICT access and use.

Keywords: Microfinance Sector, E-Commerce, Information and Communication Technologies, socio-economic development, International Telecommunications Union, social capital

Overcoming Technological Determinism in Understanding the Digital Divide: Where Do We Go From Here?

ABSTRACT: The plethora of research on the digital divide has illustrated that in essence the gap between digital “haves” and “have-nots” is a complex phenomenon with local and global characteristics (Barzilai-Nahon, 2006; van Dijk, 2006; Servon, 2008; Warschauer, 2003 are some sources). It appears that the digital divides may not be associated with economic and social well-being as hoped for by governments and international agencies. A study by the Economist (2011) found that Africa is now one of the world's fastest-growing regions with 6 of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa. For example, Uganda's GDP growth rate, one of the highest in sub-Saharan Africa, has fluctuated between 6.6% in 2011, 3.4% in 2012, around 6% in 2013 and 6.9% in the first quarter of 2014 (World Bank World Development Indicators, 2014. Yet the digital divides remain active in Uganda, with 45.9% of the population with mobile cellular subscriptions and 14.7% using the internet (International Telecommunications Union, 2012). This is largely due to deep divides between those who have resources, skills and education to reap the benefits of the information technologies and those who do not (May, Waema, & Bjastad, 2014; Servon, 2008; Warschauer, 2003). Given equal access to the technology, digital literacy sets apart those who are able to reap the benefits of the technology and those who are not. The divide between digital literacy exacerbates the inequalities caused by the information technologies, according to van Dijk (2006). He suggests that not only are the relative differences between social categories, that were already unequal in terms of “old” types of resources and capital, are amplified by the use of digital media, but the control of positions in an increasingly global, complex society and the possession of information and strategic skills to acquire and maintain these positions is increasingly unequally divided. In this way, he adds that digital media usage contributes to new types of absolute and relative inequality that add to or reinforce existing inequalities (van Dijk, 2006, p. 231).

Keywords: Information and Communication Technologies, Digital divide, International Telecommunications Union, Digital literacy, National Telecommunications and Information Administration

What is the role of mobile phones in bringing about growth?

ABSTRACT: Mobile phones have been touted as one of the most transformative technologies to have brought about development by Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, Tom Standage, Digital Editor of The Economist magazine, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and others. Innovations especially in mobile banking such as Kenya’s M-Pesa system have enabled banking and payment services to those who would otherwise remain without banking services, are seen as some of the ways in which Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are enabling development. Morawczynski and Pickens (2009) show through their ethnographic study, how the lives of people are being transformed through their use of the M-Pesa mobile banking services. For better or for worse, these technologies are here to stay. The challenge faced when studying how ICTs bring about development is in understanding how does this relationship actually take place? For example, fishermen in Kerala, India, who are able to use mobile phones to search for the best market prices for their produce, see an increase in their incomes by 8%. Since the quantity of fish brought to the market increases with the rise in farmer’s income, consumer prices fall by 4% according to the Harvard economist Robert Jensen (2007). Does this mean that there could be a bi-directional relationship between ICTs and development? In that there could be a direct link between mobile phone coverage and the ability of farmers and businesses people to increase their incomes.

Keywords: Information and Communication Technologies, International Telecommunications Union, Mobile phones, Mobile banking, Gross Domestic Product