Table of Contents

  • It is with utmost pleasure that I present the ICT and Telecommunications in Least Developed Countries report, which reviews the progress these countries have made during the last decade in deploying and upgrading their telecommunication and ICT networks to more actively participate in the digital economy. The report constitutes one of the Union’s inputs to the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV), which will take place in Istanbul, Turkey, in May 2011 and, as such, it aims at supporting the assessment of the results of the implementation of the 10-year Programme of Action for the LDCs – known as the Brussels Programme of Action (BPoA) adopted at the Third United Nations Conference on the LDCs, held in Brussels, Belgium, in 2001.

  • The ITU report ICT and Telecommunications in Least Developed Countries: Review of progress made during the decade 2000-2010 is produced as an input to the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV), to be held in Istanbul, Turkey, in May 2011. The objective of this report is to present projects and actions the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) undertook from 2006 to 2010 to assist least developed countries (LDCs) in joining the knowledge economy through the deployment and use of information and communication technologies (ICT). The report seeks to complement and update the 2001-2005 review of activities ITU presented at the Special Session of the UN General Assembly in 2006, in which the UN conducted a comprehensive mid-term assessment of the progress made until then in implementing the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010 (PoA).

  • This chapter examines the evolution of digital inclusion worldwide, contrasting growth trends in least developed countries, as a group, against those in developing and developed countries. In general, ICT uptake in LDCs has grown at double and even triple digit rates in the last five years for services such as mobile cellular telephony and fixed Internet subscriptions, slightly reducing the gap between LDCs and developing countries. Yet, the digital gap between them and the rest of the world is still significant. This is particularly evident in the adoption of new generation technologies, such as fixed and mobile broadband Internet services and third generation of mobile cellular technologies (3G), where developed countries have reached high levels of penetration.

  • Historically, the participation of least developed countries in global trade has been limited. According to the UN, their share in the global merchandise trade rose from 0.62 per cent in 2002 to 1.08 per cent in 2008, with exports destined equally to developed and developing countries. To promote economic growth and industrialization, LDCs require the support of schemes that facilitate access of their exports to new markets and provide stable sources of development financing. A primary benefit low-income countries derive from their inclusion in the LDC category is access to special support measures from bilateral donors and multilateral organizations, as well as preferential treatment in multilateral and regional trade agreements they participate in. Mainly, LDCs receive support in the areas of international trade – through preferential market access, special treatment in their obligations before the World Trade Organization (WTO) and support in developing capacity in trade-related matters –, and of official development assistance (ODA), which can be provided through development financing or technical cooperation.

  • The implementation of actions and projects in LDCs during the last decade has allowed ITU to identify some of the bottlenecks and constraints that impede progress in the deployment and upgrade of ICT and telecommunication networks in these countries. The 2006 mid-term review of the implementation of the BPoA identified six areas that required attention to make universal access possible. Five years later, the same constraints remain, but actions taken by the LDC governments and the intervention of the development community have made some inroads in lessening their pervasiveness in some cases. Building on the concerns expressed in 2006, this chapter overviews some of the actions that LDCs, along with the ITU and other development partners have undertaken in the last five years to reduce the impact of such bottlenecks and constraints on the telecommunication sector’s growth, with the goal of, eventually, eliminating them.

  • The review of the progress made since 2001 in the implementation of the commitments included in the BPoA makes evident the great effort that LDC governments and their development partners, including the ITU, have made in improving the quality of life of their populations and in facilitating sustainable development through the deployment of information and communication technologies and the upgrade of existing networks. Since the adoption of the BPoA in 2001, LDCs have made inroads in establishing an enabling regulatory environment that fosters competition, network investment and the provision of telecommunication services to a larger portion of their populations. The rapid adoption of mobile cellular technology in these countries has helped narrow the digital gap with developing and developed countries. However, the minimal progress achieved in the deployment of fixed and mobile broadband signals the need to implement more effective strategies to bring technology and international Internet bandwidth costs down, so that by improving affordability, service uptake is able to rise in these countries.