Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


Five Stages of ICT for Global Development

Posted on | February 19, 2020 | No Comments

Summarized remarks from “Five Stages of Global ICT4D: Governance, Network Transformation, and the Increasing Utilization of Surplus Behavioral Data for Prediction Products and Services,” presented at the 27th AMIC Annual Conference on 17-19 June 2019 at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand.

This presentation will explore and outline the following stages of development utilizing information and communications Computerization and Development in SE Asia technologies (ICT). The ICT acronym has emerged as one of the most popular monikers for the digital revolution and is often combined with “development” to form ICT4D. Development is a contested term with currency in several areas. Still, in global political economy, it refers to the process of building environments and infrastructure needed to improve the quality of human life. Often this means enhancing a nation’s agriculture, education, health, and other public goods that are not strictly economy-related but improve well-being and intellectual capital. Of particular interest is the transformation of the network for WiFi and mobile use as well as data-intensive solutions to address many development issues. A growing concern is that data could be used intrusively to manipulate behaviors.

The stages are:

1) Development/Modernization; 2) New World Economic and Information Orders; 3) Structural Adjustment and Re-subordination, 4) Global Integration, and; 5) Smart/Sustainable Mobile and Data-Driven Development.

The explication of these stages will provide historical context for understanding trends in ICT innovation and implementation. This research will also provide insights into the possibilities of ICT diffusion in developing environments.

1) Development/Modernization

“Development” and “modernization” characterized the post-World War II prescription for economic development around the world, and especially in newly decolonized nation-states. Scholars talked of an eventual “takeoff” if the proper prescriptions were followed, particularly the adoption of new agricultural techniques termed the “Green Revolution.”[1] Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) consisted primarily of the “five communication revolutions” (print, film, radio, television, and later satellite) that were utilized to spread information about modern development techniques in agriculture, health, education, and national governance.

Telegraphy and telephones were strangely absent from much of the discussion but were important for government activities as well as large-scale plantations, mining operations, and transportation, and shipping. Because of their large capital requirements and geographic expanse, countries uniformly developed state-controlled Post, Telephone, and Telegraph (PTTs) entities. Organized with the help and guidance of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the oldest United Nations entity, PTTs struggled to provide basic voice and telegraphic services.

Wilbur Schramm’s (1964) book Mass Media and National Development made crucial links between media and national development. Published by Stanford University Press and UNESCO, it examined the role of newspapers, radio, and television. Its emphasis on the role of information in development also laid the foundation for the analysis of computerization and ICT in the development process. I had an office next to Schramm for many years at the East-West Center while we worked on the National Computerization Policy project that resulted in the benchmark study Computerization and Development in Southeast Asia (1987).

2) New World Economic and Information Orders

Rising frustrations and concerns about neo-colonialism resulted in a collective call by developing countries for various conceptions of a “New World Economic and Communication Order.” It was echoed by UNESCO in the wake of OPEC oil crises and the resulting rising Third World debt. The issue was primarily news flow and the imbalanced flow of information from North to South. Developing countries were concerned about the unequal flows of news and data from developing to developed countries. In part, it was the preponderance of news dealing with disasters, coups, and other calamities that many countries felt restricted flows of capital.The calls caused a backlash in the US and other developed countries concerned about the independence of journalism and the free flow of trade. [2]

It was followed by concerns about obstacles hindering communications infrastructure development and how telecommunications access across the world could be stimulated. In 1983, UNESCO’s World Communication Year, the Independent Commission met several times to discuss the importance of communication infrastructure for social and economic development and to make recommendations for spurring its growth.

The Commission consisted of seventeen members – communication elites from both private and public sectors and representing a number of countries. Spurred on by the growing optimism about the development potential of telecommunications, they investigated ways Third World countries could be supported in this area. They published their recommendations in The Missing Link (1984) or what soon was to be called the “Maitland Report” after its Chair, Sir Donald Maitland from the United Kingdom.

The transition from telegraph and telex machines to computers also resulted in concerns about data transcending national boundaries. The Intergovernmental Bureau for Informatics (IBI) that had been set up as the International Computation Centre (ICC) in 1951 to help countries get access to major computers, began to study national computerization policy issues in the mid-1970s.

They increasingly focused on transborder data flows (TDF) that moved sensitive corporate, government, and personal information across national boundaries. The first International Conference on Transborder Data Flows was organized in September 1980, followed by a second held in 1984; both were held in Rome (Italy). The increasing use of computers raised questions about accounting and economic data avoiding political and tax scrutiny. The concern was that these data movements could act like a “trojan horse” and compromise a country’s credit ratings and national sovereignty, as well as individual privacy.

3) Structural Adjustment and Re-subordination

Instead, a new era of “structural adjustment” enforced by the International Monetary Fund emerged that targeted national post, telephone, and telegraph (PTT) agencies and other aspects of government administration and ownership. Long considered agents of national development and employment, PTTs came under increasing criticism for their antiquated technologies and lack of customer service. The flow of petrodollars pressured PTTs to add new value-added data networks and undergo satellite deregulation. Global circuits of digital money and news emerged such as Reuters Money Monitor Rates that linked currency exchange markets around the world in arguably the first virtual market.

A new techno-economic imperative emerged that changed the relationship between government agencies and global capital. PC-spreadsheet technologies were utilized to value and privatize PTTs so they could be corporatized and listed on electronically linked share-market exchanges. Communications markets were liberalized to allow international competition for sales of digital switches and fiber optic networks. Developing countries became “emerging markets,” consistently disciplined by the “Washington Consensus” stressing a set of policy prescriptions to continue to open them up to transborder data flows and international trade.[3]

4) Global ICT Integration

Packet-switching technologies standardized into the ITU’s X.25 and X.75 protocols for PTT data networks, transformed into ubiquitous TCP/IP networks. Cisco Systems became the principal enabler with a series of multi-protocol routers designed for enterprises, governments and eventually telcos. Lucent, Northern Telecom, and other telecommunications equipment suppliers quickly lost market share as the Internet protocols, mandated by the US military’s ARPANET, and later by the National Science Foundation’s NSFNET, were integrated into ISDN, ATM, and SONET technologies in telcos around the world.

The Global Information Infrastructure (GII) introduced at the annual ITU meeting in Buenos Aires in March of 1994 by Vice President Gore targeted national PTT monopolies. He proposed a new model of global telecommunications based on competition instead of monopoly, the rule of law, and the interconnection of networks to existing networks at fair prices. Gore followed up the next month in Marrakesh, Morocco, at the closing meeting of the Uruguay Round of the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) negotiations which called for the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Formed in 1995, the WTO had two meetings in 1996 and 1997 that created a new era of global communications development. Members party to the new multilateral arrangement met quickly in Singapore in 1996 to reduce tariffs on the international sales of a wide variety of information technologies. The next year the WTO met in Geneva and established rules for the continued privatization of national telecommunications operations. Sixty-nine nations party to the WTO, including the U.S., signed the Agreement on Basic Telecommunications Services in 1997 that codified new rules for telecommunications deregulation where countries agreed to privatize and open their own telecommunications infrastructures to foreign penetration and competition by other telcos.

The agreements came at a crucial technological time. The World Wide Web (WWW) was a working technology, but it would not have lived up to its namesake if the WTO had not negotiated and reduced tariffs for crucial networking and computer equipment. The resultant liberalization of data and mobile services around the world made possible a new stage in global development.

5) Smart/Sustainable Mobile and Data-Centric Development

The aggressive trade negotiations and agreements in the 1990s significantly reduced the costs of ICT devices and communication exchanges throughout the world, making possible a wide variety of new commercial and development activities based on web capabilities. Blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies, the Internet of Things (IoT), and the proliferation of web platforms are some of the current conceptions of how reduced costs for communications and information analysis are enhancing network effects and creating value from the collection and processing of unstructured data.

This project will expand on these stages and provide a context for a further investigation of ICT for development drawing on historical and current research. Of particular concern is the implementation of policies and practices related to contemporary development practices, but commercial and monetization techniques are important as well.


[1] Rostow, W.W. (1960) Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. See also Rostow W.W., (1965) Stages of Political Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[2] An excellent discussion of the various New World Order discourses is found in Majid Tehranian’s (1999) Global Communication and World Politics: Domination, Development, and Discourse. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers. p. 40-41. Also, see Jussawalla, M. (1981) ) Bridging Global Barriers: Two New International Orders. Papers of the East-West Communications Institute. Honolulu, Hawaii.
[3] Wriston, W.W. (1992) The Twilight of Sovereignty : How the Information Revolution Is Transforming Our World.



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. From 2002-2012 he was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea, Marist College in New York, andVictoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. His American home is in Austin, Texas and taught there in the Digital Media MBA program atSt. Edwards University He joyfully spent 9 years at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.


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