An FP column with a somewhat critical take on the UN Broadband Commission.
Suerpfast: Is It Worth A Subsidy? is a working paper written with my brother, Robert Kenny, at Communications Chambers. Governments around the world are investing multiple billions to support the roll-out of fiber. These subsidies are based on the premise that fiber to the home brings substantial externalities. However, the evidence that basic broadband has contributed significantly to economic growth is decidedly mixed, and points to low returns for (expensive) superfast upgrades. This is especially the case given that many of the applications used to emphasize the supposed benefits of fiber to the home can be delivered by basic broadband or by superfast to business and government rather than to homes. In addition, other high speed broadband infrastructures are often simply ignored when making the case for fiber, and fiber rollout is credited with bringing benefits that would in fact require major systems and social change in other parts of the economy. Given the benefits of fiber have been considerably overstated, governments should think very hard indeed before supporting fiber rollout to the home. The paper casued a bit of excitement in Australia, and attracted some critics. Here is our response. The paper was published in info (vol 13, No. 11). We published a short version in The Journal of the Institute of Telecommunications Professionals (gated, here).
Revolution in a Box was published in the November issue of Foreign Policy. The article notes the continuing global spread of television sets and an explosion of viewer choice driven by cable, satellite and digital technologies. It suggests this is a good thing, pointing to evidence that access to competitive television can improve womens' standing in the home, increase girls schooling, reduce fertility rates, lower drug use, improve governance and (possibly) help foster global peace. I spoke about the piece on NPR, Australia's ABC and on blip TV. It was picked up by Fast Company and the London Times. I didn't speak about the article to the UK's Daily Star --but this didn't stop them making up an inteview. British journalism at its best!
The Next Decade of ICT Development: Access, Applications, and the Forces of Convergence was co-authored with Mohsen Khalil. It was published in Information Technology for International Development 4,3. Developing countries are already driving global innovation in technologies and business models related to information and communications. Ongoing technological change may give new life to business and regulatory models adopted and then abandoned in the era of the dot-com boom in developed countries, and developing countries may take the lead in such changes. As networks and applications spread, catalyzing the impact of ICTs for development will become a challenge of the broader environment for their exploitation
ICT: Promises, Opportunities and Dangers for the Rural Future is for the Rural Futures conference in Plymouth, UK in March. The paper briefly reviews the evidence regarding the rapid rollout of rural ICT access worldwide, and the powerful tools that access can unleash. At the same time, it suggests the limits to the ICT revolution in rural areas especially in poor countries, and points to the limited evidence that ICT will reverse forces of agglomeration favouring the concentration of people and productivity in urban areas. It concludes by suggesting the marginal role for ICT-based policymaking in regional development strategies.
Baywatch: Bigger than Aid? is an unpublished short paper. It ponders the economic impact of the television program Baywatch --an everyday tale of lifesaving folk-- on people in the developing world. It concludes that, without considerably greater academic attention to the subject, we may never know the coefficient of Baywatch episodes on per capita income growth.
Ending Global Poverty Through Tax Breaks to Bill Gates is an unpublished short paper. Many developing countries have enacted or are considering subsidies and tax breaks for the ICT industry. This paper argues that the economic justification for such favoritism is very weak. It is based in part on material from Overselling the Web. A version was published in The Globalist.
ICTs Enterprise and Development is a draft chapter for ICT4D edited by Tim Unwin. It was written with Mike Best. There is no doubting that ICTs have had a significant development impact. Micro- and macroeconomic approaches alike suggest that the rollout of ICTs has improved livelihoods and increased the productivity of businesses. At the same time, the ICT industry itself has been a significant source of profitable investment and employment. This is not to suggest that ICTs are a silver bullet for underdevelopment, however. Successful utilization of communications technologies –and perhaps in particular the Internet—takes a broader economic environment that is conducive to their exploitation. Similarly, ICT industries and ICT-enabled businesses need an investment climate that includes an educated workforce with appropriate technical skills, access to entrepreneurial finance and business talent, reliable infrastructure, a robust but reasonable regulatory environment, and so on. Information and Communications Technologies have a role to play in the development process, but they are one player in a large ensemble cast.
I wrote an earlier collaborative paper on the impact of ICTs on development with Richard Heeks. The Economics of ICTs and Global Inequality: Convergence or Divergence for Developing Countries? was published as an IDPM Working Paper. If debate on ICTs and development has drawn from any discipline, it has tended to be sociology. This paper attempts to broaden the debate by drawing on economic evidence to ask: will ICTs support economic convergence or divergence between developing and industrialised countries? In an overall sense, technology is fundamental to development. However, ICTs – while having an uncertain impact on growth – are currently a force for global economic divergence rather than convergence. They diffuse more slowly in developing countries than industrialised countries, and they bring fewer benefits and greater costs to developing countries than industrialised countries. This does not present an argument against adoption of ICTs by developing countries. Rather, it presents an argument for focus on particular applications and investment priorities.