Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


Technostructural Stages of Global ICT for Development (ICT4D)

Posted on | January 31, 2023 | No Comments

Summarized remarks from my presentation on 30 January 2023 to the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in Communication and Information Sciences (CIS) at the University of Hawaii. In this talk, I also attempted to emphasize the contributions made by some of the faculty and research fellows at the University of Hawaii and the East-West Center who pioneered the area of information and communication in development (ICT4D).

“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” – From Winston Churchill’s address to the British Parliament that was reworked by the Marshall McLuhan movement into “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”

This presentation will outline and explore economic and social development stages or phases utilizing information and communications Computerization and Development in SE Asia technologies (ICT). The ICT acronym has emerged as a popular moniker, especially in international usage, for the digital technology 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 building enabling environments and infrastructure needed to improve the quality of human life and bridge equity divides. 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. But it has developed commercial and e-commerce applications as well.

ICT4D is increasingly tied to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) developed by the United Nations in 2015. Created during the time of Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were approved by the General Assembly for completion by 2030. They replaced the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were designed for poor countries in the “South.” Now, SDGs recognize that all countries need to implement sustainable development practices, especially countries in the “North” that are hindered by legacy infrastructure and policy frameworks.

Returning to the ICT4D acronym, Martin Hilbert presents a 3-D framework in the video below that is helpful for those unfamiliar with the topic. It does not provide a historical perspective, but the cube framework helps distinguish the development of ICT technologies, services, and skills, from how ICT is used for development as well as how policy instruments can shape ICT implementation and regulation in a national action plan.

While Hilbert’s framework is useful, it lacks the historical depth that can provide a richer analysis of global ICT4D. My research shows that information and communication issues, often associated with ICT4D, have been at the forefront of international discussion and debate for decades. While technological convergence has changed how entertainment, news, and commercial content flow within and among countries, most nations have struggled with the cultural, economic, and political consequences of those flows and sought collective protection. Understanding the significance of global ICT for development will be useful for shaping relevant governance and investment strategies.

Of particular interest in this study is the transformation of national public-switched telecommunications from analog transmission into digital networks based on Internet Protocols (IP). While this change was not warmly welcomed, it allowed them to implement data, video, and voice services and eventually offer wireless mobile capabilities, all of which have become crucial technologies for ICT4D.[1] The resulting hypertextual World Wide Web also became the foundation for innovative data-intensive solutions that are being applied to many development issues with search applications and behavior-based advertising platforms. However, a growing concern is that “big data” is being collected extensively and used intrusively to manipulate personal behaviors, shape markets, and influence policy.

The ICT4D stages or phases that have played out globally over time and that will be addressed are categorized as:

1) Containment/Modernization; 2) New World Economic and Information Orders; 3) Structural Adjustment and Re-subordination, 4) Global ICT Integration, 5) Digital Borders and Authoritarianism (recently added), and 6) Smart/Sustainable Development.

Using a techno-structural approach, the explication of these stages will provide historical context for understanding trends in ICT innovation and implementation. This approach recognizes the reciprocal effects between technological developments and institutional power. ICT, in particular, can enhance corporate and government power. It is important however to consider the “dual-effects hypothesis” to acknowledge the parallel potentials of ICT4D as both a disempowering and an enabling force. ICTs have often “played a dual role in the service of centralization and the dispersion of power.”[2]

Research on ICT4D implementation and policy is being conducted around the world. This research project varies from much of it by acknowledging the deeper roots of ICT4D internationally. This includes an historical perspective that considers the implications of earlier versions of communications and computer technology and the analysis of national computerization policies that will provide insights into the trajectories and possibilities of ICT diffusion in developing environments.

1) Containment/Modernization

The US emerged as the primary economic and military power in the aftermath of World War II. Arms and materiel sales before the war had transferred much of the world’s gold to the US, which was transferred inland to Fort Knox, Kentucky to avoid Nazi capture. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) had sought to limit finance in the aftermath of the “Crash of 1929” and continued it globally with the initiative at Bretton Woods Hotel in New Hampshire. “Bretton Woods” created the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the International Trade Organization (rejected by Congress), and also instituted a dollar-gold standard that tied the US dollar to gold at $35 an ounce (oz) and other international currencies to the US dollar at set rates. This system was designed to “contain” international financial speculation and have the IMF coordinate currency values while individual nation-states would manage trade-based economies with Keynesian macroeconomic coordination.

Another aspect of containment, more widely known, is the containment of the Communist agenda. The painful success of the USSR in World War II in countering the Nazis on the eastern European front and their appropriation of German atomic and rocketry technology presented an ideological and military threat to the US and its allies. The US reaction to the USSR’s launch of Sputnik satellites in 1957 resulted in the formation of NASA and ARPA (who later developed packet-switching). The Communist revolution in China in 1949 and the explosion of an atomic bomb on Oct. 16, 1964, spurred additional concerns and US military intervention in Vietnam to contain Communism in Southeast Asia. The resultant “Cold War” and “Space Race” spurred technological development and competition for “developing countries” worldwide. This included competition over the appropriate development models for economic growth and the “development” of key sectors such as agriculture, education, and health.

“Modernization” characterized the U.S. post-World War II prescription for economic development worldwide, especially in newly decolonized nation-states. Modernization referred to a transitional process of moving from “traditional” or “primitive” communities to modern societies based on scientific rationality, abstract thought, and the belief in progress. It included urbanization, democratization, economic growth, and “psychic mobility” that types of media could influence. Also, the free flow model of information was championed by modernists to counter state regulation and censorship of the media and especially propaganda by communist opponents.

The general view of modernization theories was that developing countries needed to be transformed from agricultural-subsistence economies to liberalized modern industrial countries. Inspired by the success of the Marshall Plan, the North (both Western and Communist) studied strategies for transforming these traditional societies into modern, industrialized economies. Economists and communication scholars in the West generally described the process as one of progressive developmental stages and presumed a linear, evolutionary and universal process. Higher levels of civil order and industrial development could be achieved through change and capital.

The leading proponent of this economic philosophy was Walter Whitman Rostow, whose Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (1960) outlined five stages that would lead to a modern nation. These were: 1) traditional society, 2) preconditions for takeoff, 3) takeoff, 4) drive towards maturity, and 5) age of high mass consumption. In a later book (1965) he would add, 6) the search for quality. Traditional societies needed to overcome their “resistances” to economic growth in order to achieve the all-important economic take-off stage that would lead them to the dream of economic and political modernization.

Scholars following Walter W. Rostow adopted the “stages” of economic development leading to an eventual “takeoff” into the realm of a modern society. If the proper regiment was followed, particularly the adoption of new agricultural techniques termed the “Green Revolution” that was heavily dependent on fertilizers and pesticides, developing countries could modernize.[3] Through the process of emulating the West, developing countries could attain increasing rates of economic growth and political democracy. Systems of bureaucracy and tradition, seen as endemic to developing countries, could be overcome through policies which liberalized markets, democratized politics, encouraged foreign trade and investment, and encouraged breaking down traditional cultures.

Interestingly, orthodox communism also presumed a linear path for economic growth, but one based not on capital but in labor and the “forces of production.” Capitalism was merely one stage in their development schemata that would eventually lead to a communist apex, liberating the working classes. The highest level to be achieved would be one of socialist equality, not mass consumption. Communism proved a staunch competitor to the West, especially in Asia and South America. India, for example, while keeping its British legal system and adopting a parliamentary system of democracy, largely incorporated the Soviet mode of industrialization. Jawaharlal Nehru, newly decolonialized India’s first Prime Minister, split from his friend and mentor Mahatma Gandhi, who stressed self-sufficiency and domestic production. Nehru would follow a state-led form of economic development based on the Russian industrial model.

The South was influenced by both these ideologies but began to perceive their own conditions as a deformation or underdevelopment due to unequal relations between North and South countries. Raul Prebisch, former head of the Argentine Central Bank, started using the terms “center” and “periphery” in his lectures during the 1940s. He critiqued the influence of the most powerful countries on the international division of labor, the declining prices of commodity goods (agriculture, minerals, and forestry), and their negative impact on local industrialization.[i] Several forums became important for expressing these concerns, notably the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) formed after the 1964 meeting that sought to protect young industries in the Third World.

C4D to ICT4D

Daniel Lerner’s (1958) The Passing of Traditional Society, argued that the psychic mobility of “peasants” could be manipulated by mass media and it would transform traditional societies into modern consumer societies. They provided a crucial intellectual foundation for communication scholars such as Wilbur Schramm and Everett Rogers and was instrumental in the field known as “Communication for Development” (C4D) that was a precursor to ICT4D. Part of the debate was whether it was Communication for Development or Development Communication. Later, the 2006 World Congress on Communication for Development defined C4D as ‘a social process based on dialogue using a broad range of tools and methods. It is also about seeking change at different levels including listening, building trust, sharing knowledge and skills, building policies, debating and learning for sustained and meaningful change.’

Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) were rarely stressed, but “five communication revolutions” (print, film, radio, television, and later, satellites) were beginning to be recognized as contributing to national development.[4] These technologies were beginning to spread information and imagery about practices in agriculture, health, education, and national governance. The hope of social mobility was also enhanced by entertainment and advertising images of a modern consumer society in magazines and television.

Some early computerization projects continued population analysis, such as the census that had started with tabulation machines. Mainframes and minicomputers were increasingly utilized for statistical gathering by government agencies for development processes.

Telegraphy and telephones were strangely absent from much of the early discussion but were important for government activities as well as commercial operations such as large-scale plantations, mining operations, transportation coordination, and maritime shipping. Because of their large capital requirements and geographic expanse, countries uniformly developed state-controlled Post, Telephone, and Telegraph (PTTs) entities with the help and guidance of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The ITU is the oldest United Nations entity having been formed in the 1860s with the widespread adoption of the telegraph. PTTs struggled to provide basic voice and telegraphic services, however, they provided much needed jobs, technical resources, and currency for the national treasury.

International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT) was a private company that transcended borders and sold electronic equipment to PTTs, laid undersea telecommunication cables, and bought into telephone and telegraph companies worldwide. However, ITT suffered from political complications and diversified its holdings in the 1960s and 1970s, diminishing its role in international telecommunications.

Wilbur Schramm’s (1964) book Mass Media and National Development made crucial links between media and national development and became very influential in developing countries. Published by Stanford University Press and UNESCO, it examined the role of newspapers, radio, and television. Its emphasis on the role of communication and 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 while I worked on the National Computerization Policy project at the East-West Center’s Communication Institute that he founded. We were inspired by The Computerization of Society: A Report to the President of France (1982), otherwise known as the Nora-Minc Report. Syed Rahim and I (as an intern) worked with the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) in Singapore to produce Computerization and Development in Southeast Asia (1987), which proved to be a benchmark study on ICT4D. AMIC is an international, non-profit, non-government organization currently based in Manila that has been a major research hub for media and information technologies and their influence on development.

Herbert Dordick, Meheroo Jussawalla, and Deane Neubauer were other key scholars conducting research on the transition from Communication for Development (C4D) to ICT4D at the East-West Center in Honolulu. But others dealing with news flow were important as well and can give us insights into concerns that erupted in response to modernization.

2) New World Economic and Information Orders

In the early 1970s, Nixon ended the Bretton Woods regulation of the dollar-gold standard, resulting in very volatile currency markets. Nixon administration had convinced Saudi Arabia to sell its oil only for dollars so countries needed to procure dollars for their energy needs. Oil prices increased, and dollars flowed into OPEC countries, only to be lent out to cash-poor developing countries in syndicated lending networks known as petrodollar markets. These instabilities created “stagflation” around the world and a general sense of “malaise” as President Jimmy Carter called it. It also brought concerns by the emerging South to the forefront of debates in international forums.

Rising frustrations and concerns about neo-colonialism due to the power of transnational corporations (TNCs), especially news companies, resulted in a collective call by developing countries for various conceptions of a New International Economic Order (NIEO) “New World Information and Communication Order.” They were echoed by many NGOs in the wake of OPEC oil shocks and the pressures of the impending Third World debt crisis.

From 1964, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), along with the Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), were forums for discussions about the NIEO. Major concerns involved:

  • Commodity price stabilization.
  • Restructuring international trade to reduce developed country tariff and non-tariff barriers.
  • Diversifying developing economies through industrialization.
  • Integrating developing countries’ economies into regional free trade blocs like the Caribbean Community.

These concerns would lead, in part, to the Marxist-informed dependency and underdevelopment paradigms that saw global economic development in terms of power relationships between core geographic areas and weaker periphery areas. This had been discerned from intra-national conditions where major cities develop advantages over the countryside. The dynamic was ascribed to international conditions where developed countries had advantages over lesser developed countries.

Other important issues were news flow and the imbalanced flow of information from North to South. Developing countries were concerned about the flows of news and data from developing to developed countries. In part, it was the preponderance of journalism dealing with disasters, coups, and other calamities that many countries felt portrayed their countries in a negative light and restricted incoming foreign investment flows.[5] Also, magnetic tape, conditioned leased telephone lines, and value-added networks were making computer-based information easier to transport and transmit.

The term New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO), sometimes shortened to New World Information Order (NWIO), also began circulating in these forums. It was picked up by the MacBride Commission, set up by the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1977 and led by Nobel Prize winner Sean MacBride to address media concerns. Its October 1980 Many Voices, One World report called for the democratization of communication and news flow and strengthening national media and journalistic practices. Its recommendations included making global media representation more equitable and national media less dependent on external sources, particularly the news agencies such as Agence France-Presse (AFP), Associated Press (AP), Reuters, and United Press International (UPI).

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, an 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 – primarily communication elites from private and public sectors representing several countries. Spurred on by the growing optimism about the development potential of telecommunications, they investigated ways that 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. This report brought recognition to the role of telecommunications in development and opened up resources by international organizations such as the World Bank.

The transition from telegraph and telex machines to computers and data communications also resulted in concerns about information transcending national boundaries. As a result, the Intergovernmental Bureau for Informatics (IBI), which had been set up as the International Computation Centre (ICC) in 1951 to help countries access major computers, began to study national computerization policy issues in the mid-1970s. The IBI-ICC assisted its member countries to understand the impact of technology on society and take advantage of the opportunities they presented.

The IBI 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 that avoided political and tax scrutiny. The concern was that these data movements could act like a “trojan horse” and compromise a country’s credit ratings, national sovereignty, and citizens’ privacy.

3) Financialization and Structural Adjustment

Instead of a New International Economic Order, a new era of “structural adjustment” enforced by the International Monetary Fund emerged that targeted government entities and restrictions on the flow of financial news, investment, and lending. A major target was State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), especially post, telephone, and telegraph (PTT) agencies and other aspects of government administration and commercial ownership.

The North–South Summit, officially the International Meeting on Cooperation and Development, was held in Cancun, Mexico at the end of October 1981. The summit was attended by representatives of 22 countries from 5 continents, including the leaders from Britain, France, and the US.[2] Newly elected US president Ronald Reagan told world leaders that in order to get foreign aid, developing nations needed to lower taxes, reduce government spending, pursue market-oriented economic policies and privatize government agencies. Development, he proclaimed, was not a question of “East versus West” but of “sense versus nonsense.” Development, he added, is created and sustained by private initiative and not coerced by governments. The sentiment was echoed by Prime Minister Margeret Thatcher who said developing countries needed to attract private investment and the “continuing flow of bank lending” with fair treatment for investment from abroad and the continual demonstration of creditworthiness.

This new system would require a higher level of news flow and transparency. Reagan ordered that financial support for UNESCO end in December 1983, citing the politicization of “a free market and a free press.” The move was applauded by the news companies who balked against the proposed licensing of journalists, and an international code of press ethics as well as increased government control over media content. It was opposed by many decolonized states in Africa and Asia that were leaning towards the Soviet bloc positions. But as the Space Race placed satellites in geosynchronous orbit and fiber optic cables began to traverse the ocean floors, a new paradigm of global information flow was emerging for data-enhanced supply chains and credit flows.

The Reagan administration retasked the IMF from harmonizing currency relationships to changing the political economy in debt-ridden countries. Petrodollars had circulated to international banks to be lent out to countries needing cash for energy purchases and infrastructure projects such as bridges and highways. The resultant “Third World Debt Crisis” provided the lever to force the Reagan-Thatcher agenda on countries as they needed IMF approval for additional loans. A primary target was the telecommunications infrastructure.

Long considered agents of national development and employment, PTTs came under increasing criticism for their antiquated technologies and lack of customer service. Thatcher aggressively pursued the sale of British Telecom shares to the public while the US broke up behemoth AT&T into regional Bell-operating companies (RBOCs). New Zealand adopted the privatization model citing the opportunity to retire 1/3 of its national debt as it sold it to 2 RBOCs who were required to sell 51 percent of the “Kiwi shares” to the domestic public. It was soon followed by Australia and other countries such as Singapore.

The flow of petrodollar lending and rising national debt in borrowing countries put pressure on 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 and SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Telecommunications). These networks, the first to use packet-switching, linked currency exchange markets worldwide in arguably the first virtual market. The volatility of financial markets due to the continual decontainment of finance added to the interest in telecommunications.

A new techno-economic imperative emerged that changed the relationship between government agencies and global capital. PC-based spreadsheet technologies were utilized to inventory, value, and privatize PTTs to be corporatized and listed on electronically linked share-market exchanges. Communications markets were liberalized to allow domestic and international competition for new telecommunications services. Sales of digital switches and fiber optic networks increased. Globalization was proceeding at an unprecedented scale.

Developing countries became “emerging markets,” consistently disciplined by what became known as the “Washington Consensus,” stressing a set of policy prescriptions to continue to open them up to transborder data flows and international investment.[6] Citicorp CEO Walther Wriston talked of the movement from the gold-dollar standard to an electronic “information standard,” coordinating the movement of capital to places that treated it well.

The gold-backed international currency framework that shaped the global economy after World War II was replaced by a new techno-financial system of computerized transactions, news flow, risk management, and technical analysis. US treasuries were the new foundation for the continuation of the Eurodollar as the US dollar strengthened its status as the global reserve currency and vehicle for transactions. Gold became just another dataset in the complex trading algorithms that shaped the prices and trades of the global financial system and consequently shaped the policy decisions of nations and the flows of investment capital.[7]

4) Global ICT Integration

The Internet became useful after Mosaic was developed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) in late 1992 and released in 1993. The NCSA was funded by the High-Performance Computing Act of 1991, otherwise known as the “Gore Bill,” after its sponsor, Senator Al Gore Jr. Mosaic was developed by Marc Andreessen and other graduate students to take advantage of the hypertext protocols developed at CERN and the resource-sharing capabilities of the National Science Foundation’s NSFNET. They would go on to form Netscape, and its new web browser would be freely distributed to individuals and licensed to companies. When Congress altered NSFNET’s acceptable use policy in March 1991 to allow commercial traffic, the Internet was seen as the harbinger of a new economy.

Vice President Al Gore Jr. targeted national PTT monopolies and government regulatory agencies when he introduced the Global Information Infrastructure (GII) at the annual ITU meeting in Buenos Aires in March of 1994. There he proposed a new model of global telecommunications based on competition, instead of monopoly. He stressed the rule of law and the interconnection of new networks to existing networks at fair prices. In some ways he was echoing his father, the late Al Gore who had championed the interstate highway infrastructure across the US during the 1950s.

    I am very proud to have the opportunity to address the first development conference of the ITU because the President of the United States and I believe that an essential prerequisite to sustainable development, for all members of the human family, is the creation of this network of networks. To accomplish this purpose, legislators, regulators, and business people must do this: build and operate a Global Information Infrastructure. This GII will circle the globe with information superhighways on which all people can travel.

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. The Marrakesh Agreement aimed to create an multilateral trading system encompassing the GATT as well as the results of all the previous trade rounds that had been conducted since 1947. Significantly, that included the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services). GATS included everything from circuses, education, radio, and television, to telephone and data services. This process led to prices becoming very cheap for international data-based services, including video. Also at Marrakesh, they called for the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) creation.

Formed in early 1995, with New Zealand’s former PM Michael Moore at the helm, the WTO had two meetings in 1996 and 1997 that created the new era of global communications and 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 Information Technology Agreement (ITA) was signed by 29 participants in December 1996. The agreement was expanded at the Nairobi Ministerial Conference in December 2015, to cover an additional 201 products valued at over $1.3 trillion per year. The agreements allowed Korea to successfully market early CDMA mobile handsets and develop a trajectory of success in the global smartphone market.

In 1997 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 US, signed the Agreement on Basic Telecommunications Services in 1997 that codified new rules for telecommunications deregulation where countries agreed to privatize and open their 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: 1) negotiated and reduced tariffs for crucial networking technologies, and computer devices, and 2) negotiated a new services arrangement that reduced the prices on international communications, including video. The resultant liberalization of data and mobile services around the world made possible a new stage in global development.

Packet-switching technologies that had been standardized into the ITU’s X.25 and X.75 protocols for PTT data networks transformed into ubiquitous TCP/IP networks by the late 1990s. Cisco Systems became the principal enabler with multi-protocol routers designed for enterprises, governments, and telcos. However, 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 telecommunications technologies around the world.

Hypertext, Ad Markets, and Search Engines

The online economy emerged with the Internet and its hypertext click environment. Starting with advertising and the keyword search and auctioning system, a new means of economic production and political participation emerged. It was based on the wide-scale collection and rendition of behavioral data emerged for prediction products and services.

As Shoshana Zuboff points out in Surveillance Capitalism (2019), the economy expands by finding new things to commodify, and the Internet provided a multitude of new products and services that could be sold. When the Internet was privatized in the early 1990s and the World Wide Web (WWW) established the protocols for hypertext and webpages, new virtual worlds of online media spaces were enabled. These were called “inventory.” This ad space was based on the amount of storage available and would be placed on a website, news site, or other web publication. The type of ad was based the information they had about the viewer based on registered clicks.

Behavioral data is the information produced as a result of actions that can is measured on a range of devices connected to the Internet, such as a PC, tablet, or smartphone. Behavioral data tracks the sites visited, the apps downloaded, or the games played. Cloud platforms claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data. Some of this data is applied to product or service improvements, the rest are declared as proprietary behavioral surplus, and fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence.’ Automated machine processes can capture knowledge about behaviors but also shape behaviors.

Surplus behavioral and instrumental data is turned into prediction products such as recommendation engines for e-commerce and entertainment. These anticipate what people will do now, soon, and later. Prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace for behavioral predictions called behavioral futures markets. These are currently used primarily used in advertising systems based on CTR, Pay-Per-Click (PPC), and real-time bidding auction systems.

While ICT has a long history in global affairs, digital technologies largely emerged from the commercialization of Cold War and Space Race technologies. They were deeply molded by financialization and globalization processes in the 1970s and 1980s. Shaping the global infrastructure for the Internet involved aggressive political stances in remaking telecommunications systems. Deep changes were needed to allow hypertext protocols and TCP/IP technologies to be standardized and implemented worldwide for economic and social uses.

6) Digital Borders and Authoritarianism

Despite cyberspace promise of a world without digital borders, nationalistic concerns started to re-emerge. In the post-colonial era, domestic powers were often keen to limit the flows of financial information that may act as a type of “trojan horse” passing national boundaries without scrutiny. Before the leverage of petro-dollar debt opened up the flows of information and capital that characterized the neo-liberal financialization, national telecommunications borders worldwide were policed technologically and politically. The PTTs operated as an electronic moat that would be nearly unrecognizable by the turn of the century due to the push to liberalize and privatize the telco environment.

7) Smart/Sustainable Development

We recently passed the halfway point for the sustainable development goals (SDGs) outlined by the United Nations in 2015. The SDGs are providing additional impetus for global ICT4D as it encourages infrastructure building and support for crucial development activities that ICT can assist, such as monitoring land and sea resources, encouraging entrepreneurship, and providing affordable health information and communication activities.

The aggressive trade negotiations and agreements in the 1990s significantly reduced the costs of ICT devices and communication exchanges worldwide, making possible a wide variety of new commercial and development activities based on ICT capabilities. Countries significantly reduced their tariffs on electronics and services imports, making possible their adoption and diffusion among broader populations. Now, smart technologies are produced from complex international supply chains that advance technology and reduce prices – but are subject to the vagaries of globalization.

ICT4D is highly reliant on affordable digital devices and network equipment. A key variable going forward is the value of the dollar, the world’s primary reserve and transacting currency. A global shortage of dollars due to higher interest rates and greater political risk means increased prices for imported goods, regardless of agreements that lower import tariffs. In addition, the post-Covid crisis and Ukrainian invasion have stressed supply chains of critical materials and raw Earth minerals, further adding to potential costs of ICT and geopolitical risk facing sustainable development.

SDGs are Sustainable Development Goals

But there are characteristics of ICT4D that can offset the potential problems of digital equipment. The near-zero marginal costs for digital products make information content and services more accessible for developing countries. Books, MOOCs, and other online services provide value to a vast population with minimal costs to reach each additional person. Platform-based services providing agricultural, health, and other development services provide low-cost accessibility and outreach. They allow new applications to scale significantly with low costs.

Incidentally and significantly, renewable energy sources like solar and wind also provide near-zero marginal costs for producing electricity. Like digital products, they require high initial investments but output continuous product at low costs once operational. Offshore windmills, for example, can figuratively print money once the facility is set up and operating.

Mobility, broadband, and cloud services are three significant technologies presenting positive prospects for ICT4D. Mobile broadband technologies that bypass traditional wireline “last mile” infrastructure have been a major boost for ICT4D. They provide significant connectivity across a wide range of the population and with key commercial and government entities. 4G LTE technologies currently provide the optimal service, as 5G towers consume nearly over 60% more power than LTE. They also require more base stations and antennas as their range is lower.

Enhanced connectivity strengthens network effects. 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.

Concluding Remarks

This project looks at the historical phases and international dynamics of ICT4D. The “five communication revolutions” (print, film, radio, television, and later, satellites) had a significant impact on the development of national identities within a global context. These technologies were often enlisted in the contest between the US and its allies and the Communist countries. The telegraph and telephone were powerful commercial technologies that often synchronized with tabulating machines to create information collection processes and the nascent data processing industry. They were also central to news agencies that were expanding and feeding newspaper worldwide.

These technologies provided a powerful edge for globalizing companies that many countries considered a new type of colonialism. Many countries joined in the “non-aligned movement” to protest the strong globalizing trends and call for a “New World Information and Communication Order” in UN forums that would address economic and information imbalances between the powerful “North” and the weaker “South” countries.

The North doubled down on the emerging technological imperatives and the markets they enabled. They stressed breaking up state-owned enterprises and especially government-owned telecommunications systems that impeded international data flows. PC-enabled spreadsheets helped investment banks and financial traders inventory and value SOEs to be sold off to investors. The accumulation of debt during the 1970s was a lever that opened up countries to flows of capital and associated news.

Fiber optics and digital switches enhanced national and international telecommunications. The development of Internet technologies brought additional pressures on national information systems. The WTO brought together services and technology concerns into a wide set of agreements to reduce tariffs on both to make ICT widely available and relatively cheap worldwide.

Mobile, broadband, and online platforms are currently deemed most useful for ICT4D. They have shown the potential, primarily in smaller-scale projects to assist health, education, and other sustainable development activities. But ICT is a global technology that is difficult to replicate at a national scale. Technologies cheaper than the leading-edge digital devices, such as Orange’s 4G Sanza Touch, are becoming more available but still have ties to more extensive economic interests. Orange, for example, is a French-based telecommunications provider that also operates in many African countries.

In further explanation of these phases, I will 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 sustainable development practices, but commercial and monetization techniques are important as well.


[1] Dordick, Herbert S. and Neubauer, Deane. 1985. “Information as Currency: Organizational Restructuring Under the Impact of the Information Revolution.” Bulletin of the Institute for Communications Research, Keio University, No 25, 12–13. This journal article was particularly insightful into the dynamics of the PTTs that would lead to pressures on them to adapt IP technologies leading to the World Wide Web.
[2] The techno-structural approach in development can be attributed to a debate between Ithiel de Sola Pool and Majid Tehranian. Pool‘s Technologies of Freedom was written by the MIT professor, primarily at the University of Hawaii Law Library and put forward a strong libertarian thesis about communications technologies and how technical change in this dynamic area should be treated by the legal/regulatory system. Tehranian felt compelled to respond with his “technostructuralist” book Technologies of Power. emphasizing that new technologies are guided in their development and deployment along existing lines of corporate, governmental, and military power. Other scholars, especially Richard Heeks and Tim Unwin have reframed the Communications/Computerization/Development debate in terms of ICT4D but put its origins in the 1980s. Heeks, R. (2017) Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) (Routledge Perspectives on Development) 1st Edition. Also Unwin, T. (2017) Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development. Oxford University Press.
[3] 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.
[4] Lerner, D. (1976). 16. Technology, Communication, and Change. In W. Schramm & D. Lerner (Ed.), Communication and Change: The Last Ten Years – and the Next (pp. 285-301). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
[5] An excellent discussion of the various development and new world communication and economic order calls can be found in Vincent, R. C., Galtung, J. (1992). Global Glasnost: Toward a New World Information and Communication Order? United States: Hampton Press. Also, see Jussawalla, M. (1981) Bridging Global Barriers: Two New International Orders. Papers of the East-West Communications Institute. Honolulu, Hawaii.
[6] The Washington Consensus was a set of policy prescriptions involving fiscal discipline, liberalization of trade and the inflows of capital, privatization, tax reform, and the deregulation of a wide range of industries to allow competition and foreign ownership.
[7] Wriston, W.W. (1992) The Twilight of Sovereignty : How the Information Revolution Is Transforming Our World.

[i] Chilote, R.H. (1984) Theories of Development and Underdevelopment. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Citation APA (7th Edition)

Pennings, A.J. (2023, Jan 31). Technostructural Stages of Global ICT for Development (ICT4D).



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea where he manages an undergraduate program with a specialization in ICT4D. His background in ICT4D goes back to the Computerization Policy Project at the at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii in the mid-1980s as an undergraduate research intern. After getting his PhD from the University of Hawaii, he moved to New Zealand to teach at Victoria University in Wellington. There he saw the complex international pressures shaping the island nation. From 2002-2012 he was on the faculty of New York University. His US home is in Austin, Texas.


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