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Information and Communication Technologies

All text messages are not created equal

Pierre Guislain's picture
Photo credit: Adam Fagen/Flickr
Eight months after the launch of the World Development Report 2016 on Digital Dividends, I am happy to report that our efforts to operationalize the findings are well under way. For digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere, affordable access to broadband internet is key. This requires both robust broadband infrastructure, and the strengthening of analog complements to digital solutions, including a pro-competitive and effective regulatory framework, a sound business environment, good governance and digital skills.

One of our main areas of focus is the enabling environment – helping governments foster digital development by putting in place the right policies and regulations.

Now, what are some of the main issues?

First, across the world, but especially in developing countries, competitiveness continues to be dragged down by ‘red tape’, including numerous procedures, authorizations and delays to start a business or launch a service, costly and unreliable property registration, or stifling labor regulations. I am sure you are all familiar with the Doing Business report and the World Bank’s many programs to support business reforms worldwide.

While the digital industry also faces these regulatory hurdles, it is confronted with additional challenges.

Let me give you an example. With your phone in hand, you are about to send a text message to a friend. Your phone offers you a choice: to send the text message through your mobile operator, or to send it via the internet through an app. Depending on what platform you use, your text message will be taxed differently. All text messages are not created equal: different digital services are treated differently from a regulatory and fiscal point of view, with no real level playing field.

What did we learn from real-time tracking of market prices in South Sudan?

Utz Pape's picture

Economic shocks can be painful and destructive, especially in fragile countries that can get trapped into a cycle of conflict and violence. Effective policy responses must be implemented quickly and based on evidence. This requires reliable and timely data, which are usually unavailable in such countries. This was particularly true for South Sudan, a country that has faced multiple shocks since its independence in 2011. Recognizing the need for such data in this fragile country to assess economic shocks, the team developed a real-time dashboard to track daily exchange rates and weekly market prices (click here for instructions how to use it).

Media (R)evolutions: Making broadband policy universal for inclusive development

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

In order to ensure economic and social development is inclusive, all citizens, including the poor and those living in rural areas, must have access to information. Communication services, which includes mobile broadband, remains a crucial element in this goal. However, cost, competition, demand and affordability, and customer distribution (among others) all influence how telecommunication firms view the feasibility of providing specific technology services.

National broadband plans (NBPs) and universal access and service (UAS) policies that provide regulation, financing, and access goals are essential to ensuring that a country can provide broadband services. These policies, which can be tailored to ensure they will provide access to poor and rural communities, should not be viewed as an obligation but an opportunity for growth. The World Bank acknowledges this in the 2016 World Development Report: Digital Dividends:

Government policies and regulation of the internet help shape the digital economy. Particularly through their policies for the ICT sector, governments and regulatory agencies create an enabling environment for the private sector to build networks, develop services, and provide content and applications for users. Increasingly, governments seek to cooperate across borders on issues such as cybersecurity, privacy, and cross-border data flows. Internet-enabling policies have evolved over time, especially those for the ICT sector [...] Broadband internet, in particular, is seen as a general-purpose technology, essential for the competitiveness of nations, and governments have invested more than US$50 billion in broadband networks since 2009 as part of stimulus packages. Most also have national broadband plans.


With this in mind, the Broadband Commission tracks national progress towards a set of targets, the first of which is to make broadband policy universal. Advocacy target 1 states, “All countries should have a National Broadband Plan or strategy or include broadband in their UAS definitions.” According to its latest annual report, The State of Broadband: Broadband catalyzing sustainable development, growth in the number of countries with NBPs has progressed over the past eight-year period, but has stabilized in the past three. There are now 151 countries with a NBP, and 38 have not yet developed one. Azerbaijan is the most recent addition to the list of countries with an approved NBP, and another seven countries are planning to introduce one: Cape Verde, Cuba, Dominica, Iraq, Solomon Islands, Saint Lucia and Togo.

Establishing payments interoperability: coordination is key

Thomas Lammer's picture



Efficient, accessible and safe retail payment systems and services are necessary to extend access to transaction accounts to the 2 billion people worldwide who are still unserved by regulated financial service providers.
 
Having interoperable payment services addresses several important challenges regarding financial access and broader financial inclusion. This is because interoperability enables people to make payments to anyone else in a convenient, affordable, fast, seamless and secure way via a single transaction account.
 
Establishing payments interoperability is a formidable task. Our experience shows it is important to find the right balance between cooperation and competition when reforming retail payment systems.  Despite the advantages that interoperability brings, not all market participants will necessarily embrace interoperability initiatives, e.g. if they fear to lose their dominant position and/or competitive advantage. In an earlier Blog the role authorities to facilitate interoperability has been discussed. Central banks are a key driving force in any payment system reform, but they cannot – and should not – act alone. Other regulators – such as financial and telecom regulators – are also important to achieving interoperability.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.


Middle-Class Heroes: The Best Guarantee of Good Governance
Center for Global Development

The two economic developments that have garnered the most attention in recent years are the concentration of massive wealth in the richest one percent of the world’s population and the tremendous, growth-driven decline in extreme poverty in the developing world, especially in China. But just as important has been the emergence of large middle classes in developing countries around the planet. This phenomenon—the result of more than two decades of nearly continuous fast-paced global economic growth—has been good not only for economies but also for governance. After all, history suggests that a large and secure middle class is a solid foundation on which to build and sustain an effective, democratic state. Middle classes not only have the wherewithal to finance vital services such as roads and public education through taxes; they also demand regulations, the fair enforcement of contracts, and the rule of law more generally—public goods that create a level social and economic playing field on which all can prosper.

The State of Broadband: Broadband catalyzing sustainable development
Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development/UNESCO

The report finds that global broadband connectivity shows strong growth, with 300 million more people connected in 2016 than in 2015, putting the number of people online by the end of 2016 to 3.5 billion. However, more than half the world’s population (some 3.9 billion people) remains offline. The report highlights that offline populations, who are now found in more remote, rural areas, consist disproportionately of poorer, minority, less educated, and often female, members of society. The report traces the progress made towards achieving the Broadband Commission’s targets for broadband. Progress has been mixed.

SDGs Made with Code: Giving women and girls the power to change the world

Mariana Dahan's picture
Increasingly more aspects in our lives are powered by technology, yet women aren’t represented in the roles that create this technology. In many places there are barriers to simply using technology, let alone, creating it. Women in India and Egypt are six times more likely than women in Uganda to say that internet use is not considered appropriate for them, and that their friends or family may disapprove. Learning to create with technology opens up opportunities for women to express themselves, have the ideas heard and contribute to shaping our future. Even though there’s so much more we need to do, we’re inspired to see the movement around the world to break down these barriers and start contributing their voices to the field of technology.

We recently met Mariana Costa from Laboratoria – a nonprofit that empowers young women by providing them access to the digital sector. In the next three years Laboratoria will train more than 10,000 young women as coders. This tech social enterprise located in Peru, Mexico and Chile, helps young women - who have not previously had access to quality education – enroll in an immersive five-month training program at Laboratoria’s Code Academy, where students achieve an intermediate level on the most common web development languages and tools. Their technical development is complemented with a personal development program that helps them build the soft skills needed to perform well at work. Successful graduates also receive mentoring and job placement and are usually able to pay-back the cost of the course during their first two years of employment. Most of the time, these young girls are the only breadwinners in their households.

Is the declining pace of innovation lowering productivity & growth?

Vinaya Swaroop's picture

If you have been listening lately to Robert ‘Bob’ Gordon, an economics professor at Northwestern University, he will tell you that the days of great inventions are over. This in turn, has led to a significant slowdown in total factor productivity – a measure that economists use to measure innovation and technical progress. Falling productivity is one of the main reasons for growth shortfall in advanced economies like the United States.

Eager to know more about this seemingly worrisome and pessimistic thesis, which has attracted a lot of attention among economists and the media, we invited Gordon to give a talk at the World Bank.

Building on Six Decades of Partnership toward a Promising Future

Annette Dixon's picture
VP
Annette Dixon, World Bank Vice President for the South Asia Region and Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives in conversation with an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) living in a temporary welfare camp. Photographer: Mokshana Wijeyeratne

Sri Lanka amazes me in many ways, with its smiling faces among a rich tapestry of cultures, diversity, and natural wonders. On this fourth visit and first time in the Northern Province, I once again found a resilient and industrious people eager to build their lives and advance the country together.

As Sri Lanka recovers from an almost three-decade long conflict, much progress has been made. I am proud that the World Bank Group has been a close and trusted partner with the country to help restore lives, livelihoods, and unlocking the potential of all of its people, inclusive of men and women, diverse geographic locations, as well as different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

What is Korea’s Strategy to Manage the Implications of Artificial Intelligence?

Hyea Won Lee's picture

AlphaGo, Google’s DeepMind Artificial Intelligence (AI) program for Go game, recently beat the world’s top ranked Korean grandmaster Lee Se-dol in a five-game Go match in Seoul. Lee’s defeat by 4-1 turned into a shock for the Korean public and quickly spurred a major discussion on the state of Artificial Intelligence development and its broader impact on society. In response to the soaring public attention, the Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) has laid out the Artificial Intelligence Information Industry Development Strategy, which aims to strengthen the foundation for AI growth.

The Importance of Mapping Tech Hubs in Africa, and beyond

Rachel Firestone's picture

As the World Bank’s ongoing mapping of Tech Hubs in Africa comes out with its newest edition, we wanted to share the rationale behind this exercise and highlight its links to other efforts in this innovative space.

Our mapping activities began tracking tech hub and incubators in the African context since 2014 with periodic updates, focusing specifically on those who support digital entrepreneurship.
 
Complementing other World Bank work in this realm, such as research on mLabs and mHubs, contributions to the Makers’ movement, support to mobile app competitions, bootcamps and hackathons, and an upcoming Pan-African Acceleration program, the Tech Hubs in Africa map highlights the presence and potential interaction between digital entrepreneurs, while furthering the World Bank’s twin goals of ending poverty and increasing shared prosperity. The exercise also provides data points for ongoing inquiry into the relationship between innovation, entrepreneurship, job creation, and sustainable livelihoods. 

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