World Development Indicators 2009: a commentary (part II)

(continued from World Development Indicators 2009: a commentary (part I))

The services are still unaffordable for many people in low-income economies, leaving them yet to realize the potential of ICT for economic and social development

This is quite evident by most data available, so my comment will be headed not on the fact of the digital divide, but on affordability itself.

According to my own research (again, more to come soon), after analysing 55 models that depict digital development and include more than 1,500 indicators, if we let aside the analogue indicators (e.g. GNP), 37% of the digital indicators were depicting the state of infrastructures, of which only one sixth were measuring affordability.

The rationale behind this argument is that not only most people cannot afford ICTs, but, according to what we measure, we can infer that most measuring tools — which are normally built to measure the impact of policies and strategies and projects — simply do not care or care little about affordability. If people cannot afford ICTs and policy-makers and decision-takers (amongst them development institutions) do not care about affordability, we’ve got a problem. A big one.

In developing economies innovative use of ICT services is changing people’s lives and providing new opportunities

Not that I disagree with this statement — have I already cited the Economic Benefits of ICTs? — but there is a shade of meaning to be made here. I increasingly think that ICTs are not a driver of inclusion but a driver of exclusion. In other words, people have to move (or develop digitally) to remain in the same place. ICTs actually do not create new opportunities, but the absence of ICTs or digital illiteracy do decrease the number of opportunities available to those on the wrong side of the digital divide.

See, for instance, the next figure that I presented — among other places — in my speech Digital students, analogue institutions, teachers in extinction and that is based on Manuel Castells’ Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society and Informationalism, Networks, And The Network Society: A Theoretical Blueprint:

Graphic: Factors of inequality and exclusion in the Network Society
Mobile phones have captured the market in developing economies […] Seventy percent of mobile phone subscribers are in developing economies

The first part of this statement is absolutely true and people in developing countries — citizens or development agencies working in the terrain — know it perfectly. See, for instance, Mobile Web for Development or Innovative Uses of Mobile ICTs for Development.

But the second part is definitely misleading, as the next chart is:

Graphic: Mobile cellular phone subscribers

Stating that 70% of the total mobile phone subscribers are in developing economies says little about the relative weight of such penetration. According to the World Bank itself, there are 6 billion people alive today: One billion people live in developed countries [while] the other 5 billion live in developing countries. Which is to say: 83.3% people live in developing countries. Compared with 70% of total cellphone subscribers, there still is a gap of 13.3% in favour of developed countries. And if we take into account international agencies, development organizations and tourists (…and troops) — that buy domestic SIM cards to have local prices — the unbalance is even worst.

I am not saying that news are bad — which are not —, but that they are not as good as they might seem at first sight.

More information


If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2009) “World Development Indicators 2009: a commentary (part II)” In ICTlogy, #67, April 2009. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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  1. Pingback: Celulares para el Desarrollo y la Inclusión Social. « El Kikuyo Digital

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