Published on Digital Development

Operationalizing the WDR

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In the last decade or so, mobile phones have been appearing in the least likely of places: in the hands of a Masai warrior in the middle of the Kenyan bush, on a fishing boat off the coast of Vanuatu’s Malekula Island, and even on top of Mount Everest. The digital revolution has reached much of the world and has had a powerful impact.
Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank

The 2016 World Development Report on “Digital Dividends” paints a clear picture of the remaining digital gap and of the barriers that are keeping countries from reaping the dividends associated with the digital revolution. One of the key points that the report makes is that, for digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere, affordable access to high-speed internet is key.

  • The quality and price of high-speed internet access still varies widely from country to country. For instance, the report shows that users in Pakistan pay less than US$1.50 per month per GB of mobile internet. But users in Africa can pay up to ten times that amount. These differences arise from policy failures as much as from differences in countries’ natural endowments.
  • There is a need to enhance fixed broadband infrastructure. While mobile broadband has helped fill the gap for high-speed Internet access in developing countries, small screen devices are not necessarily suitable for running a digital business and mobile networks still need strong backhaul infrastructure.
  • There is also a need to strengthen analog complements to digital technologies, such as regulations that create a vibrant business climate and skills that let firms leverage digital technologies to compete and innovate.
Providing universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020 is a target adopted by the United Nations as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Based on this international mandate, and on the roadmap provided by the WDR’s finding and recommendations, we are launching today a new Multi-Donor Trust Fund: the Digital Development Partnership. The DDP aims to operationalize the WDR and is articulated around four priority work areas:
  • Fostering an enabling environment for a digital economy
  • Internet access for all
  • Digital government and public service delivery
  • Mainstreaming digital innovation
Digital economy enabling environments
In line with the policy recommendations in the WDR, we are assisting countries in developing an enabling environment for ICT based on the principles of market competition, public-private partnership and effective regulation. As an example, in the Union of Comoros, the Bank has supported the award of a second mobile license to Telma, from neighboring Madagascar. The new market entrant will compete with the incumbent, Comoros Télécom, still a public company. Our program also includes support for a new undersea regional cable linking Comoros with Mayotte and Madagascar leveraging investment from other private operators in the region. In preparation for the new market environment, we provided support to the government on the passage of a new Communications Law and with spectrum management.  
Internet access for all
The Bank is carrying out a lot of work to scale up affordable access to broadband in remote and rural areas. As part of our new ICT strategy, based on the WDR, we are focusing on countries where the private sector is not able to deliver, such as landlocked countries like South Sudan, and “sealocked” countries like Marshall Island, where we are supporting broadband access through the provision of new regional fiber optic cables. We also work in post-conflict and fragile states, like Somalia, where we are supporting the development of an enabling regulatory environment as well as support for higher education connectivity. And in transitioning economies, like Nicaragua, Tunisia and Kosovo, we help increase rural broadband.
Digital government
E-government – by which we mean online access to government services - is essential to improve services to citizens and to foster transparency and efficiency in public administration. In Burkina Faso, for example, we plan to launch an eGovernment program that leverages ICT to enhance the accessibility, transparency and efficiency of public services as well as stimulating job creation and entrepreneurship through ICT. The program will build upon the success and scale up an open data initiative, called BODI, which has been supported by the transitional government.
Mainstreaming digital innovation
Finally, we will assist in mainstreaming digital applications in areas such as governance, social protection and urban management. For example, we are working on an e-Gabon project to mainstream ICT applications in the health system. We are investigating how digital ID can assist Ebola-affected countries in Africa to contain and manage a pandemic. This will be delivered as part of a cross-cutting program on Digital ID for Development.
Our hope is that, in a not too distant future, the fishermen off the coast of Malekula Island will not only be able to text for help while at sea, but will see the weather forecast, chat on Skype with business partners and be able to post pictures of their catch on social media.


Pierre Guislain

Senior Director, Transport and ICT, World Bank

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