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Report from Pro-Poor ICT Access Workshop (#8)at the IGF, Dec 5 2008 

This workshop was moderated by Radhika Lal, Senior Policy Advisor, UNDP. UNDP has supported the development of a Pro-Poor ICT Access toolkit – this has been developed by APC. There are lots of initiatives taking place on the ground and there is a need to look at how we can make regulatory frameworks in countries more supportive to these pro-poor ICT access initiatives. This toolkit also looks at the key points for advocacy. 


Context Setting: Introducing pro-poor access


Presentation by Claire Sibthorpe, Maple Consulting Services (Toolkit Project Manager)  Why Pro-Poor ICT Access? Global experience shows ICTs have potential to contribute to poverty reduction and inclusion of poor and currently marginalized and underserved communities. But continue to be widespread disparities in access both within and across regions.

For instance: 

  •    Recent ITU data shows that 94% of African population does not have access to fixed telephones, computers and Internet
  • There are gaps in terms relevant content and ICT applications for social and economic development  Pro-Poor ICT Access toolkit: There are new lessons and opportunities for improving pro-poor ICT access. Some of these are discussed in the toolkit which has the following three modules: 
  •  Policy and Regulatory issues         Implementation of projects at community level
  •  Advocacy strategies and approaches Draft toolkit documents can be found at: http://access.apc.org/ Pro-Poor ICT access assumes: 
  •  ICT tools, applications and services are affordable and accessible to the poor and those who working with or for them
  • ICTs are used meaningfully to address the challenges of poverty and secure broader development benefits
  •  Relevant content that addresses the needs of the poor is available There are a number of barriers to pro-poor ICT access including: 
  • Infrastructure challenges: Access to basic communications networks especially in rural areas. Issues include geographic distance, difficult terrain, lower population densities, and economic hardships leave little commercial incentive for undertaking the investments required to extend telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas.         Lack/unreliability of electrical power
  • Costs of hardware, software, connectivity
  • Social and cultural issues: including illiteracy, unfamiliarity with dominant languages of the internet, value of information delivered by ICTs, factors such as gender, social class, ethnic group etc. 
  •  Policy and regulatory frameworks
  • Policy and managerial capacity: Including inadequately planned and executed ICT projects, lack of participation by the poor and pro-poor groups in public policy and decision making processes, etc. 


Policy and regulatory issues:  

Seán Ó Siochrú, Nexus Research (Toolkit Module Author) There are three forms of influence:1.      Universal Access Policies, including focused pro-poor actions2.      A general sector framework conductive to pro-poor ICTs3.      Cross-sectoral cooperation for a pro-poor outcome Universal Service/Universal Access Universal Service/Universal Access actions include: Subsidies cross/subsidies for:

         Public telephones in rural/remote areas

         Extending coverage (fixed/mobile)

         Internet for schools, hospitals, public services

         Broadband backbone into rural areas  Targeting poor people and communities: 

         Telecentres/cybercafes/etc. for poor areas

         Pro-poor content-driven ‘kiosks’, centres etc.

         Community-owned ICT (micro)enterprises Universal Access Subsidy Source and Mechanisms: Raising Resources:

         Universal access fund

         Direct government budget Mechanisms:

         Lowest subsidy auction

         Grants/Low cost loans         Public ownership

         Open-access  Combined source/mechanism:

         License obligations         Spectrum allocation

         Fee exemptions         Asymmetrical interconnection fees

         Access deficit charges

         Tariff ceilings Positive regulation/Policy Framework: General features to reduce costs/extend access:

         Technology neutrality

         Competition at each layer

         Shared infrastructure (active, passive)

         Open access, Open standards, Open source

         Public interest approach to broadcasting, including community media Cross-sectoral initiatives: Pro-poor components in:

         ICT strategies


         ‘Mainstreaming’ ICTs across sectors (PRSPs, MDGs etc) 


Implementation of projects the community level

Tina James, icteum consulting (Toolkit Module Author)  




         Increased interest in the provision of low-cost affordable technologies to reach the poor

         Unattractive markets requiring large scale efforts unlikely to be addressed by only one player or institution only; or government only This has resulted in new ways of technology appropriate and use as well as emerging community-driven and community-ownership models. 

         There has been a remarkable growth in mobile communications: Over 2 billion subscriptions by end of 2008o        Africa: 39 % growth (2006/07); 45% villages in SSA connected (2006)o        Asia: 28% growtho        Latin America and Caribbean: 4m (1995) to >300m (2005)

         Centralised ownership, expensive installations but innovative means of appropriation by the pooro        Combinations of voice and printo        Prepaid, shared ownership, call-back, private ‘selling’, microfinancing schemes o        Numerous applications in education, mobile banking, agricultural information, advocacy, human rights

         Nepal Community Wireless case study: Use of WiFi has revolutionized potential for community-driven approaches – low-cost, open standards, flexibility, relatively easy maintenance. Lobbied for regulatory changes – licences reduced from US$ 5000 to $1.50   There are different levels of community partnership and ownership in models. In terms of sustainability many of these things need to be in partnership.  


Advocacy strategies and approaches 

Steve Buckley, Community Media Solutions (Toolkit Module Author) What do we mean by advocacy? Advocacy is the active support of an idea or cause expressed through strategies and methods that influence the decisions of people and organisations. When is pro-poor ICT advocacy needed?

         When existing ICT policies have the effect of reinforcing poverty and disadvantage

         When appropriate ICT policy change could be expected to improve poor people’s lives and livelihoods Techniques for effective advocacy:

         Policy monitoring and public accountability mechanisms

         Policy dialogue – ICT and mainstream development policy

         Campaigns for policy change

         Building the advocacy capacity of stakeholder groups

         Pathfinder and demonstrator projects Advocacy planning and implementation:

         Preliminary steps – problem, policies, goals, consultation, building credibility

         Analysing the policy environment – policies, laws, regulations, decision making, policy options

         Developing the strategy – goals, objectives, audiences, approach, messages         Framing the plan – activities, budget, risks

         Implementation – communications, coalitions, tactics, negotiation, monitoring, review 



The following comments were made during the discussion: 

         Discussions of pro-poor with an economic agenda should not eclipse the social justice agenda.

         Need to think of structural change rather than silos of initiatives. I.e. the development agenda vs single initiatives.

         How do we define poor and poverty? Is poor defined at the family or individual level? This is an issue since even in relatively wealthy families there may be those disempowered (e.g. girls may not be able to pursue a career in ICTs). It is important to look at the definition of poor and poverty in the country you are working in and whether it is suitable for ICT considerations. There is a hidden poor and we need to have policies and regulation that target this group.

         The broader social context is critically important. Need to take a bottom up understanding of the communications/poverty divide.

         ICTs need to be seen as a tool to development and not an end to itself. There is an issue in terms of which department drives it – i.e. a development vs IT oriented department.

         Need examples of good business models for community projects. There are interesting technology and community participatory projects emerging. There are a range of models – from community driven ownership to government driven projects. However, there is not much yet in terms of large upscaling. Good practice is to work in communities with existing social structures – gives level of social sustainability to projects.

         How do we deal with investors and ensure they invest in pro-poor access given they are concerned with profit? Universal access policies tend to go where investors don’t see profit. Investors will invest where make most money – regulators need to force people to invest in pro-poor areas.

         There are challenges in terms of sensitizing ministers and government officials who do not understand “ICT”. The term ICT is not understood in its full meaning and is seen as technical. People do not understand ICTs and the applications – illustrating by example is often the best way to show what you mean.

         At what point does something become empowering? In terms of policy and regulation, giving access is not enough. Most regulators stop at point of providing access but there is a need to go beyond access and to see how it is empowering.

         Trend toward developing national ICT strategies has meant that some non-ICT ministries have taken up ICT (i.e. ministries that involved in services that the poor use).  

         Important to understand to whom (to which department) advocacy is addressed. There are different approaches for different departments. Most likely source of support can be in development ministries. Need to bridge different spaces. Often the allies you find are not in the ministries where you want to make changes.

         Some places of multiple initiatives where none will be sustainable given their scale. Can’t expect each initiative to be sustainable without economies of scale. Can aggregate – e.g. have shared bandwidth solution.

          Who you are working with also matters. E.g. if working with local development actors then the money stays local.

         There is not a need to choose between technologies. For example, can bring radio and ICT in common platform.

         Open access agenda is valuable in terms of cost of infrastructure. There has been investment in infrastructure but costs are not going down.

         Advocacy is not just a piece that is done at local/national level. Need to look at how the costs of access are determined all the way down the chain. Need to address entire ecosystem.

         Pro-poor ICT advocacy is a constantly changing and moving target. This is because either the goals are achieved and new goals need to be addressed or because of a changing market place. For example in East Africa the policy focus has shifted from looking at opening regimes to more specific issues which touch what a person can access (e.g. interconnection).

         Governments are looking at how infrastructure can be shared at much lower costs.

         Content solutions and applications must be the drivers. If poor people don’t have content and applications then they won’t use the community access points.

         Innovation has been driven by the content imperative.

         Sensitization – trying to find a way of getting media to cover these issues, The media are only interested in scoop news. Getting to the media is important. Community practitioners struggle to convey their messages in ways that media will pick up since they are not seen as a scoop to media.

         Some of this work is longer term but ministers change and many are focused on shorter term of next election.

         India has many languages which means that communications need to be translated across many languages. Translation can dilute effectiveness.

         Often outsource development of government policies which is an issue. For instance, if the Ministry of Education is developing an IT strategy they hire IT experts rather than education experts. Domain rather than IT experts need to be consulted and define how to use ICTs. ICT ministries should focus on providing the infrastructure but not in determining how it should be used.

         Policies should clearly state that standards should be open. There should be pro-open source policy to make it pro-poor.         One of the case studies in the toolkit is about how PDAs are being used in health centres in Mozambique 


Closing comments by Karen Banks, APC

APC will look at a way of continuing the discussion on these initiatives. Also encourage people to go to the access website and send comments on the draft Pro-Poor ICT Access toolkit documents.