Saturday, May 31, 2003


Yesterday I attended a meeting of international experts on spectrum allocation and management that was organized by the Global Communications and Information Technology Group of the World Bank. I learned a lot, but found myself thinking about some of real basics, that I will share here. (The real results of the meeting witl be shared by the World Bank at a later date.)

Let me be even more pedantic than usual for a bit. The discussion focused on the allocation of frequencies to cellular telephone operators. In general, telecommunications regulatory agencies are involved in allocating frequencies to military, civil government, and commercial applications; to satellite communications as well as mobile telephones. I was surprised to find that in many countries, allocation to radio and television was under different legal statutes, and done by different agencies. The allocation of frequency bands is often (but not always) linked to operator licensing. The traditional approach to frequency allocation from the 20th century has been challenged by frequency hopping technologies that utilize the spectrum more efficiently for some applications, and by unregulated uses (typically low power) that are also appearing.

Is spectrum a scarce resource? The issue is perhaps at the root of government allocation processes. If spectrum is not a scarce resource there might still be a role for government, such as government’s role in defining road traffic rules. Road traffic works more efficiently if people all drive on the right side of the road (or all on the left), and if there are traffic lights and people stop on red. But the allocation of the right side of the road to drivers is not the same as the leasing of range lands to ranchers or the allocation of mineral rights to mining companies; it does not have the same implication of property rights.

Clearly spectrum is not a scarce resource in the outback of Australia, or the rural areas of most of Sub-Saharan Africa, or indeed in much of the South-West of the United States. In these areas there is not much electricity, not many mobile phones or radio stations, etc. Lets go a little deeper into the subject. In the middle of the night, when people sleep, if the transmitters are turned off, spectrum scarcity becomes less of a problem.

Spectrum scarcity is thus geographic and temporal; spectrum may be a scarce resource in some places at some times, but not at other places or other times.

The idea of spectrum as a scarce resource stems more from wireless than from wired communications. Sending information via wires (or fiber optics), does not reduce by much the ability to send information over other wires (or fiber optics) or by wireless. So if one were to put fiber optic cable to every room in every home, office and factory, there would be a lot of information capacity for everyone. (Of course, the spectrum on each fiber optic cable is a limited resource.) We are not going to have wires trailing from satellites to the ground, or from airplanes. There are applications in which wireless transmission, at relatively high power, would be needed. But in a fully wired world, there could be a lot less problem of spectrum scarcity.

Similarly, since spectrum scarcity is due to the interference of one transmission with another, the problem can be reduced by transmitting with very low power, and with very little spread of the signal outside of the path from antenna to receiver. Indeed, one can imagine a system in which information traveled from room to room, building to building, etc. by fiber optics, and only travels short distances between room terminals to handsets by wireless via very low power, directional antennas. Since there would be very little interference from one user to another, there would be very little problem of spectrum scarcity.

We can also stretch spectrum by use of computer power and memory. What does it really take to serve my information needs? I remember reading years ago that the average person can take in about seven bits of information per second. And of course, we are online only a small part of the day. So perhaps the average need for information from electronic sources is two or three bits per second. The ability to receive information at a constant rate, store it, and retrieve it when needed clearly would reduce the transmission capacity requirements. Similarly, some of the Internet streaming audio and video applications that are increasingly common provide vivid demonstrations of the possibility of reducing bandwidth requirements while retaining adequate information for the viewer by properly coding the transmissions. More computer intensive coding schemes might reduce bandwidth requirements still more. Using TiVo like technology, if we spread the reception of the signal for one or two hours of TV per day over a 24 hour time frame, and if we recognized how much redundancy there is from frame to frame, we could further reduce TV bandwidth requirements.

Of course, this is very different than what actually occurs. In developed countries, there is a lot of information that is broadcast. It is the threat of interference among these high power broadcasts that causes spectrum scarcity. I suggest that spectrum scarcity is therefore an artifact of the current technological system, and is concentrated in densely populated areas of relative affluence. Unfortunately, as a result, a lot of relatively affluent people are affected.

In the meeting I perceived that several people felt that it was a perfectly natural thing that governments owned the spectrum, and had the right to lease it to companies. They acted as if this was in the natural order of things. (The challenge to this view is primarily from those maintaining that some portion of the spectrum should be maintained as a commons.)

As I understand history, Newton was the first to observe the spectrum of light, passing a beam of white light through a prism, and to recognize the implications of that observation. It seems to me that were someone to have told Newton at that point that he was claiming ownership of part of the electromagnetic spectrum, say “red”, that person would have been considered mental. (My son reminds me that in Rome and China the colors purple and yellow were indeed reserved for patrician classes or rulers.)

Marconi, when he experimented with wireless in the 1890’s, didn’t have to apply for a license to use a portion of the spectrum. Thus the idea of spectrum allocations is less than 100 years old. It is interesting that it has already become so culturally embedded, that it seems to many to be self evident. If spectrum is a scarce resource, then how is it to be managed.

There was some discussion in yesterday’s meeting of private property versus commons approaches to conceptualizing the spectrum (and agreement that these might be complementary, with some bands leased to individual companies, other allocated for public agencies, and still others treated as commons). For private property, one needs to be able to exclude others from use of the property. For there to be a commons, there needs to be institutionalized rules for use of the commons to prevent the use by some from interfering with the use by others.

Hernando de Soto has written about the need to turn property into capital for development to take place. Indeed, one of his key points (as I understand it) is that in the United States, historically property rights were developed locally by frontier communities and then institutionalized by the law, providing a legal basis for transfer of ownership of land and other property, for lending on property, etc. These laws translated property into capital. In Latin America, and other colonized areas, the development of laws did not recognize and institutionalize culturally derived ideas of property, and still to this day a slum houses and micro-enterprises can not be legally sold, nor can they form the collateral for borrowing; property is thus not capital.

In the case of a portion of the spectrum, I think capitalization involves not only the ability to exclude others from using the portion, but the ability to buy and sell portions of the spectrum, and indeed to borrow against it. I see no reason why a portion of the spectrum reserved as a commons could not also be property, jointly owned by the community of users, nor why such property should not be capitalized. The commons used as grazing lands could be bought and sold by a village, so why should the portion of the spectrum used by a community not be also?

It occurs to me that the World Bank might be very helpful in building the institutions needed to make portions of spectrum property or a commons and capital. The building activities might involve acquisition of capital equipment (such as instrumentation), training, organizational development, technical assistance, creation of secondary markets for transfer of spectrum rights and responsibilities, etc.

Perhaps another good idea would be to let unlicensed uses of the spectrum proliferate in areas in which it is not a scarce resource – such as the rural areas of poor countries. I am thinking of projects such as the Digital Gangetic Plain project in India or The Fab Lab Norway’s Electronic Shepherd project to tag livestock for monitoring and tracking or the Village PDA Project.

If projects such as these demonstrate new approaches to developing connectivity in rural areas of developing nations using wireless technology, and the communities involved develop approaches to managing the use of the technology, perhaps they will be suitable for later institutionalization and legalization.

Here is a speech by someone who knows a lot more about spectrum allocation than I do! (Damning with faint praise!)

Saturday, May 24, 2003


This Blog focuses on Knowledge for Development. It focuses especially on knowledge backed by evidence and analysis, supported by theory. It seems obvious, but some of the most critical knowledge for development comes from economics and other social sciences. This entry will be one of the few on my Blog dealing with such knowledge.


There is a new report from a team lead by Paul Collier at the World Bank, Breaking the Conflict Trap: Civil War and Development Policy”.
Abstract: “The repercussions of civil war are often felt in countries far removed from their countries of origin, civil wars cannot be allowed to continue towards their ill-fated conclusions. Rather, cohesive international intervention is needed to avert externalities such as drug trafficking, spread of disease and global terrorism. Indeed the report finds that contrary to popular opinion, ethnic tensions and ancient political feuds are rarely the primary cause of civil wars. Instead economic forces such as entrenched poverty and heavy dependence on natural resource exports are usually to blame. This study therefore urges three specific sets of actions to prevent civil wars: more and better-targeted aid for countries at risk, increased transparency of the revenue derived from natural resources, and better timed post-conflict peacekeeping and aid.”

The report is the subject of articles in the Economist (“The global menace of local strife”) and the International Herald Tribune (“How to stem civil wars: It's the economy, stupid?”).

Apparently, most wars are civil wars today. (Which was the more important war, that in Iraq during the last few months which killed a few thousand people, or that in the Congo during the last five years which is estimated to have resulted in between 3.1 million and 4.7 million deaths? Why is there no obvious relationship between the amount of media coverage of a war and the number of deaths it causes?) Most of the wars are in very poor countries. (Answering my own question.) They are very bad for development, and often poison the development process for a long time after the fighting ends.

It is important to have studies such as this one, that say what should be obvious, with data. It is even more important when the studies point out things that are counter-intuitive. Thus Collier et al point out that poverty is a more implicated in civil war than ethnicity. Perhaps on the basis of such evidence we will give more emphasis to stopping civil war; or at least stop sending aid to countries that will waste it in violence.

It surely seems to me that there ought to be international mechanisms that work better to halt civil wars and to build the peace. The UN seems unable to accomplish this task well, and the former colonial powers (that seem to do it often) seem no better than the US. In this respect, I was disturbed in a chat with a senior European journalist last week, who indicated that Europe was going to have enough problems in its back yard in the next decade, and should not be expected to try to solve problems in other parts of the world. This may be bad news for Africa.

Agricultural Subsidies, Trade Barriers, and Development Aid

I was surprised that the ICT Development Forum focused very heavily on these topics. The most memorable statistic was this:
Half the people on earth live on less per day than the average daily subsidy per cow in European Agriculture, which is US$2.50. The average subsidy per day per Japanese cow is US$7.
Trade barriers were estimated to cost developing countries exports that are seven times greater than the flow of development assistance. (Some of the data for such assertions can be found in Chapter 7 (“Competition”) of the 2002 World Development Report.

Probably a better source on the real contribution to development of poor nations is the Commitment to Development Index of the Center for Global Development (that I mentioned in a posting a week or three ago). Read the supporting documents too.

The joint issue of subsidies, trade barriers and aid levels was raised by James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, and Mamphela Ramphele, a Managing Director of the Bank. They were very clear about the negative impact on developing nations of the current situation.

The Forum had agreed with some tranquility to the proposal from the head of Transparency International for better tracking of corruption and transparency, and to the modest proposal that the Development Gateway portal join with Transparency International to collect and distribute information on these topics. It ground into controversy when the idea of doing the same for subsidies, trade barriers and aid came up. And indeed, a part of the controversy is related to the allocation of blame – is corruption keeping poor countries poor, or is it the policies of rich countries. And, if it is both, is it not appropriate to track both?

I suppose the developing country people in the meeting were right to insist on the relevance of these sources of foreign currency to a meeting on ICT for Development, and especially given the focus on the Development Gateway. Money counts! Hard currency obtained through trade and aid allow countries to purchase capital goods from abroad, goods fundamental for development. These goods of course include ICT, but the demand for ICT will grow with economic growth.

The Development Gateway Portal has agreed to take on the job of providing a platform for information on the Millennium Development Goals. The recommendation that it utilize its ICT expertise in this manner was quickly and easily accepted. Interestingly, the eighth Goal has specific sub-goals on official development assistance and on market access for developing nations (mentioning both trade barriers and agricultural subsidies.)

In short, I think we need knowledge about civil war, corruption, and financial flows to developing countries (including agricultural subsidies, trade barriers and aid flows of developed nations that influence those flows).

I attended the ICT Development Forum on the topic of Leadership in ICT for Development. The conference was on the 21st of May.

Check out the coverage related to the conference from the Development Gateway’s ICT4D Topic page.

Saturday, May 17, 2003


The May 10, 2003 issue of the Economist magazine has an excellent survey of the information technology industry. I strongly recommend it. I can not do justice to it in a short blog entry.

The survey suggests that while Moore’s law may hold at least until 2010, cost reduction for chips may not be the key issue for the information revolution. Hardware is no longer the major portion of overall costs that it once was. PCs and even smaller devices have already become “commodities” rather than expensive “appliances”. The article suggests that in a maturing hardware industry, good manufacturing practice may be the thing of the future, rather than huge profit expectations. The article notes how Google gets by with self-built hardware, and indeed benefits from its ability to modify hardware at need. Computing may become a utility, as software develops the ability to assign as much hardware capacity as is needed to each user demand.

Industry leaders will then “move up the stack”, focusing business models on the emerging, more profitable markets. As in the past action moved from mainframes (60s), to minicomputers (70s), to PCs (80s), and then to servers (90s), it may now move to grid computing. The survey notes that “firms spend 70-90% of their IT budgets simply on keeping their systems running. And because those systems cannot adapt quickly to changes in demand, companies over-provide. They now spend almost $50 billion a year on servers, but the utilization rate for these computers is often below 30%.” While 20 years ago, data storage hardware costs dominated business data storage costs, today administrative costs are dominant.

The Survey goes on to suggest that software will become a service, with users pulling down needed general purpose software from the computer utility as needed, and paying for the use of the software service. Before this can happen, there has to be, according to the Economist, the development of “web service” – a standard way for software applications to work together over the internet. The Survey notes that “IBM was making a $10-billion bet on what he (Samuel Palmisano, IBM’s CEO) called ‘on-demand computing’—essentially an effort to turn IT from a fixed into a variable cost. American Express has already signed a seven-year, $4 billion contract with IBM which allows the credit-card company to pay only for the IT resources it needs.”

Another article notes that “for the first time, the IT industry is widely adopting open standards—thanks to the internet.” The development of open standards has characterized the later mature stages of other industries -- notably “railways, electricity, cars and telecommunications all learned to love standards as they came of age”.

An article notes that given the maturity of the industry, and the magnitude of investments and expenditures to be made for IT goods and services, government and businesses will become more cost conscious, placing high level managers to oversee IT budgets.

In the past, the IT industry benefited greatly from government support. Yet during the hayday of the IT bubble, many companies shied away from the government. The Economist predicts that the industry will again strengthen ties with government not only as a customer, but as the agent defining the rules of the game. Spectrum allocation and IPR are identified in the article as two key areas.

There is a nice short bibliography attached:

The Washington Post on May 4, 2003 had a story on how to build a computer. The Washington Post suggests that the cost savings are not much for budget PCs, but can amount to 30% for power machines. Of course, building your own has advantages for maintenance, self confidence. and later upgrading. (This of course is all academic for me, as the most I have done is add a card to an existing computer, but it sounds interesting,) Here are some of the sites it recommended to help in that effort:

This website provides information and instruction on building your own computer. See especially the instructions for building a power personal computer (for those of you who need and can afford it), and building a budget PC (for under $500).

Type “Build your own computer” and this comparison shopper will provide links to several manuals, with comparison prices.

PC Mechanic
This website is described by the Washington Post as "for the knowledgeable enthusiast." It makes available instructions for building PCs, notably in a CD that is for sale. It also sells parts, has discussion postings, and other resources.

Here are other similar websites, that I found via Google, providing instructions on building your own computer.

Learn to Build Your Own Computer

My Super PC

Build PC Net

And another site for supplies for building that computer:

This is a source for low cost parts for computers, providing the stuff with which to build your own computer.


The Global Information and Communication Technologies Group of the World Bank has a good set of online publications that you can download from its website. Among them are:

Benchmarking Regulators: Making Telecom Regulators More Effective in the Middle East
Summary: "Like telecommunications reformers elsewhere,Arab countries have set up independent regulatory authorities to make objective, consistent, and nonarbitrary regulatory decisions.This is a major step forward and is already delivering positive results for consumers in the form of new and better telecommunications services. Still, some governments seem reluctant to hand over the regulatory role, limiting the effectiveness of sector regulation and the agencies formed to implement it. One way forward is through benchmarking—to help policymakers and potential investors assess regulatory performance and prioritize efforts to strengthen it." By Mohammad A. Mustafa 06/01/2002. (PDF, 214KB)

Servicios de telecomunicaciones e información para los pobres - Hacia una estrategia de acceso universal
Resumen: "El acceso a las tecnologías de la información y las comunicaciones ha asumido un papel primordial en la promoción de un desarrollo económico sostenible y la reducción de la pobreza; sin embargo, el acceso a las redes de comunicación aún se concentra en unas pocas regiones y grupos poblacionales, y las líneas de esta nueva "brecha digital" siguen de cerca y complementan las brechas existentes en materia de ingresos y economía. Las innovaciones tecnológicas, las presiones económicas y las reformas regulatorias tornan más asequible el acceso a las tecnologías de la información y comunicaciones (TICs) y brindan oportunidades para reducir la brecha digital. Esto documento de trabajo presenta algunas políticas y medidas regulatorias, incluyendo incentivos para atraer inversiones en áreas que presentan altos costos y desafíos, que pueden utilizarse en diferentes escenarios para eliminar la brecha digital. Si bien la experiencia del Grupo del Banco Mundial muestra un número creciente de proyectos con componentes específicos de acceso universal destinados a cerrar la brecha de acceso, este documento propone alternativas de apoyo por parte del Grupo del Banco Mundial para las políticas de acceso universal, a través de una combinación adecuada de asistencia técnica e inversiones." Por Juan Navas-Sabater; Andrew Dymond; Niina Juntunen, Marso 2002. (PDF, 119 paginas.)

Cerrando la Brecha en el Acceso a la Comunicación Rural: Chile 1995 – 2002
Resumen: “En este estudio, Björn Wellenius documenta y analiza la experiencia chilena en las telecomunicaciones rurales. El informe está enfocado en los principios, la organización práctica, los resultados, las mejoras en el diseño básico, los temas pendientes y las posibilidades de aplicar esta solución también a formas más avanzadas de la comunicación y del acceso a la información.”

Here is a related article by the President of VITA, a longtime leader in Knowledge for Development, and a pioneer in the area of ICT for Development:

The Case for Alternative Bandwidth Management to Help Bridge the Digital Divide
VITA "is developing and testing two new non-commercial approaches to bandwidth management that could complement the on-going rollout of commercial services by targeting areas and groups not currently served, while also building market demand and skills to increase the impact of commercial services once they do become available:
-The creation of a "humanitarian bandwidth pool" in which the excess capacity of private communications networks would be used as the platform to provide low-cost, basic, non-voice communication and information services to the poor and to organizations that serve them.
-The development of targeted communication and information services for the poor based on the limited use of "reserved," non-commercial bandwidth for such purposes. VITA-CONNECT (VITA’s remote area, satellite-based, store-and-forward, email communication and information service) is one example of such an approach."
by George Scharffenberger, 5 February 2001, (HTML)

Friday, May 16, 2003


I posted some references on this topic April 30, 2003, and here are some more:

Prioritizing Countries for Assistance To Overcome the Digital Divide
Abstract: "In order to provide the right type of assistance to the right countries to overcome the digital divide, some method of prioritization is required. This paper attempts to take a first step in that direction. After a brief literature review, it develops two indicators of the present level and quality of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) access in a country, as well as four indicators (beyond income) of the determinants of access and quality. After testing the determinant indicators to see if they are, indeed, related to the quality and quantity of access, it uses them to suggest priority countries for particular types of donor intervention to overcome to digital divide. The paper then turns to limitations of the proposed approach and conclusions." By Charles Kenny, Communications and Strategies, Volume 41 - 1st quarter 2001. (HTML).

Liberalizing Basic Telecommunications: Evidence from Developing Countries
This is a power point presentation by Carsten Fink, Aaditya Mattoo, and Randeep Rathindran of the Development Research Group of The World Bank. It is a nice graphical presentation of the benefits of telecom liberalization from the authors research. The text that accompanies the slides is useful.

An Assessment of Telecommunications Reform in Developing Countries
Abstract: "This paper analyzes the impact of policy reform in basic telecommunications on sectoral performance using a new panel data set for 86 developing countries across Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean over the period 1985 to 1999. We address three questions. First, what impact do specific policy changes – relating to ownership and competition – have on sectoral performance? Second, how is the impact of change in any one policy affected by the implementation of the other, and by the overall regulatory framework? Third, does the sequence in which reforms are implemented affect performance? We find that both privatization and competition lead to significant improvements in performance. But a comprehensive reform program, involving both policies and the support of an independent regulator, produced the largest gains: an 8 percent higher level of mainlines and a 21 percent higher level of productivity compared to years of partial and no reform. Interestingly, the sequence of reform matters: mainline penetration is lower if competition is introduced after privatization, rather than at the same time. We also find that autonomous factors, such as technological progress, had a strong influence on telecommunications performance, accounting for an increase of 5 percent per annum in teledensity and 9 percent in productivity over the period 1985 to 1999." By Carsten Fink, Aaditya Mattoo, and Randeep Rathindran, undated. (PDF, 37 pages.)

>Regulation and Internet Use in Developing Countries
This is a World Bank working paper by Scott Wallsten. (PDF, 24 pages.)

Regulating Telecommunications in Developing Countries: Outcomes, Incentives and Commitment
By Ahmed Galal, and Bharat Nauriyal. (PDF, 36 pages.)

Telecommunication Reforms, Access Regulation, and Internet Adoption in Latin America
By Marco Manacorda, Tommaso M. Valletti, and Antonio Estache. March 21, 2002 (PDF, 44 pages.)

World Bank Infrastructure Working Papers
This page has a number of working papers reporting research on building infrastructure in developing nations. Some deals with information infrastructure. However, analytic results vis a vis energy, transportation or other networked infrastructure may also inform debate on ICT infrastructure. The Policy Research Working Paper Series disseminates findings of work in progress to encourage the exchange of ideas about development issues. The series aims to share the findings out quickly, even if the presentations are less than fully polished.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003


The two conferences described below were mentioned in the current Economist magazine special on information technology. They both illustrate the need to rethink not only law, but the basic philosophical principals that underlie the law when new technology results in new conditions.

The Law and Technology of Digital Rights Management
This conference sought to confront the controversies surrounding digital rights management (DRM). Sessions were titled "DRM as an enabler of business models," "Impacts of DRMs on innovation, competition, and security," "Impacts of DRMs on flows of information," “Impacts of DRMs on consumers," "DRM-related legal and policy initiatives in the U.S.," and " Anti-circumvention regulations in the U.S. and elsewhere." It was held in Berkeley, California, February 27 through March 1, 2003. The "Resources" section of the conference website has posted a large number of resources. Some of the presentations at the meeting were recorded, and there are audio and visual media downloads available.

Spectrum Policy: Property or Commons?
Spectrum policy is undergoing a fundamental reorientation in the United States and elsewhere. An emerging consensus holds that the traditional system of governmentally-allocated spectrum rights inhibits innovation and competition. The central question now facing policy makers is what form of spectrum management should replace the existing system. These issues were discussed and debated at this event, held in Stanford, California, March 1 and 2, 2003. The website has a number of resources that can be downloaded, as well as biographic material on the speakers, who number some of the leaders in the field.

One interesting aspect of this latter conference is the set of blogs blogging the conference. I imagine many or all of them might be of interest to any readers who may have found my blog:

Scott Mace's Radio Weblog.

Joi Ito's Web

Boing Boing [Cory Doctorow]

Silicon Valley - Dan Gillmor's eJournal - The Airwaves: Open or Owned

Aaron Swartz: The Weblog

Geodog's MT Weblog: Impressions of the Spectrum Policy debate

Doc Searls

Legal Theory Blog

Stuart Buck

Connected: Sarah Lai Stirland - Corante

Speaking of which, Courante has a whole set of bloggers, many posting in areas of interest to Knowledge for Development readers.

I have been reading Anthony Williams papers from Digital4Sight’s Leadership in the Networked Economy Project. He makes the point that Trust makes the networked economy work. You don’t engage in e-commerce without trust, nor in online banking. Businesses don’t share information online without Trust. You don’t want to give information electronically to a government you don’t trust, nor do you want to do online transactions with such a government. Indeed, you don’t want to fund an NGO to work in the networked society unless you trust it.

All very well, but in the U.S. there are currently major scandals in business. government seems to be permanently under suspicion. And indeed there have been some very sad cases of charitable organizations showing up as lead by people I find hard to trust. And I think of the U.S. as one of the more ethical countries. There are certainly developing countries where I trust business and government institutions less than I trust those of the U.S.

Williams, correctly, pointed out that if organizations are open and transparent they are more trustworthy. But for an organization to open itself and its transactions to public scrutiny, it better be ethical. Ethics may then in a networked society become a vehicle to business and governmental success.

“Openness” in the context of international development is often used in the context of open to outside ideas. Rodriguez and Wilson in their paper several years ago suggested that openness was a very strong predictor of Internet penetration in developing countries. That might be causal, that countries that are open seek the Internet. I suspect it may be that countries that are more “modern” are both more open and more accepting of communication technologies. It of course is conceivable that openness grows with more exposure to outside information, or even more likely that there is a triple link, with openness leading to connectivity, connectivity leading to openness, and modernity encouraging both.

It does occur to me that the unethical and exploitive will probably reject openness and transparency, as getting in the way of graft, corruption and exploitation. So too will the reactionary reject openness to new ideas, as unlikely to be helpful in the road to the past that they would prefer to take.

There would seem to be much less nefarious reasons that elites might reject openness and transparency. Theirs is a good life, perhaps to be threatened by change. If you are not enthusiastic about change, you might not be enthusiastic about openness to new ideas. Even if ethical, you need not be enthusiastic about making your transactions open and transparent to others; what if those competing with you for power or wealth utilize the information against you.

Moreover, the World Values Survey results have suggested that there are deep cultural nd economic roots underlying differences on two dimensions: traditional versus secular authority, and survival versus self-expression. I would expect those sharing secular values to be more open to outside ideas than those sharing traditional values; those concerned with self-expression to be more willing to be open and transparent than those concerned with survival values.

If Trust is a linchpin of Knowledge for Development, and if openness and transparency, based on ethical behavior in institutions are the road to Trust, then that road may be quite long in some places.

Saturday, May 10, 2003


DC Fab Lab
MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms seeks to bring the programmability of the digital world to the physical world through the development of technologies to personalize fabrication. These would use table-top means to make logic, sensing, actuation, and displays as well as mechanical structures. Along with the enabling research at MIT, CBA is seeking to establish "fab labs" to explore the prospective users and applications of these technologies. This meeting will explore the possibility of working together to set up a fab lab in the DC area, aimed at meeting the needs of local communities as well as policy-makers. It is to be held in the facilities of the National Academy of Sciences, May 29, 2003.

Engineers Forum On Sustainability
(Co-Sponsored by ASCE, ASEE, & AIChE)
9:00am – 12:00pm, Friday, May 9, 2003
Room 250, National Academy of Engineering
2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C.
This is the latest in a series of meetings. (Sorry to be late posting this.)

The International Committee on Intervention and State Sovereignty“The so-called "right of humanitarian intervention" has been one of the most controversial foreign policy issues of the last decade - both when intervention has happened, as in Kosovo, and when it has failed to happen, as in Rwanda. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his report to the 2000 General Assembly, challenged the international community to try to forge consensus, once and for all, around the basic questions of principle and process involved: when should intervention occur, under whose authority, and how. The independent International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty was established by the Government of Canada in September 2000 to respond to that challenge.” Quoted from the ICISS website.

Friday, May 09, 2003


I have been thinking about the pricing of drugs and the way the pharmaceutical industry works. Clearly the industry is the key player in the development of knowledge embodied in vaccines, medicinal drugs, and related products. The issue has always been how to get for-profit companies to develop needed pharmaceuticals for poor people in developing nations, since the market is much better for the products serving people in rich countries. In the case of HIV/AIDS, as in other previous cases, there has been a great deal of pressure brought on the industry from civil society organizations and governments to sell products at prices close to the manufacturing and distribution costs.

A key point in understanding the pharmaceutical industry is that it investigates thousands of chemical compounds for every successful product it finds and markets. The costs are huge of bringing a product to market, including those of safety, efficacy and effectiveness testing, of the development of production processes, and of the marketing and education of the doctors and pharmacists – on the orders of hundreds of millions of dollars. Indeed, only a small portion of the products marketed by the industry are financially successful. It is the profits from the sales of these drugs (over the costs of their production) that pays for all the research and development, training and investment that makes the knowledge based industry possible.

The industry, as I understand it, feels that a fair price for a pharmaceutical product should be based on the medical costs or medical problems it averts or replaces. Thus, if one would have to have a $10,000 surgical procedure that could be averted by a course of medicines, that course of medicines might be fairly priced at perhaps $9,000. The really successful drugs for the industry are those that are widely used, and that bring the average patient large benefits. When such a drug can be manufactured and distributed cheaply, it pays for a lot of research.

I doubt that there are exorbitant profits to investors in the industry. My basic economics suggests that were that to be the case, the industry would attract more and more investors until the profits came into line with other industries.

Of course pharmaceutical industries will bargain on prices. Indeed, the people I have known in the industry are no less and perhaps more motivated by humanitarian impulses than the rest of us. If one looks at orphan drug programs, they illustrate that companies are willing to run product lines at a loss to meet a real humanitarian need.

And I find it quite reasonable for governments and NGOs to bargain hard for lower drug prices. The industry has greatly reduced HIV/AIDS drug prices in recent years, no doubt for many reasons, but no doubt in part in response to the demand for lower prices.

I also think it reasonable that other policy instruments be used to get drugs to the needy poor. Donor subsidies are appropriate, and I think the Bush Administration’s $15 billion HIV/AIDS initiative is a real advance. Other donors also act to mobilize resources for the purchases of new and effective pharmaceuticals, Government also funds generic research and development related to such products as a public good, it provides tax financing for research and development in the form of tax exemptions, and it reduces regulatory deterrents to the development of such drugs, such as the simplifications of FDA approval for orphan drugs or freedom from anti-trust legislation. The wealthy are given tax deductions for funding research and dissemination programs, and the work is acceptable for charitable foundations, Appropriate balance of these instruments is a key policy issue.

One real problem is if the profitability of HIV/AIDS and other diseases of poverty product development is too low to maintain industry interest and investments. If the benefits to industry of working in poor nations are commensurate with the costs, as viewed in comparison with other product lines, they will continue to invest. If not, they won’t. It is as simple as that. So it is important that if public policy demands the development of vaccines for malaria, diagnostics that are fast and accurate against SARS, vaccines and drugs for HIV/AIDS, and many other products, we find ways to pay for them, and those ways do not depend too heavily on squeezing the industry. If industry leaders see only losses and marginal profits in making drugs for the poor, then they will make other, more profitable products.

If all people have rights to basic health, then the pharmaceuticals needed to treat those too poor to afford drugs become public goods. We finance such public goods by government and charitable institutions, not by taxing a specific industry.

Thursday, May 08, 2003


Many people say that there is a technological factor underlying the restructuring of some key development sectors. ICTs have changed the costs of transactions both within enterprises and between enterprises. We see business-to-business (B2B) transactions electronically mediated, as we also see business-to-customer (B2C) transactions increasingly done over the Internet. Companies reengineer to utilize technology more efficiently and effectively within core competencies. They outsource functions, downsize, and focus efforts on those core competencies. Labor markets, financial markets, and other economic institutions are also modified to utilize information and especially communications technology.

I have been wondering if there are parallels in institutions that are less visible economic to this transformation of economic systems.

Perhaps one is in the system for “framing” development issues. By this term, I mean identifying which issues are to be given priority and which not; identifying the alternatives to be considered for the issue; identifying the kinds of benefits and costs, risks and opportunities to be considered; empowering or disenfranchising stakeholders to participate in the discussion; linking or unlinking issues one from the other, etc.

In parallel with the development of the Internet we certainly see a growth in numbers and influence of civil society organizations, and Douglas and Wildavsky’s classic book “Risk and Culture” suggests that NGOs become a greater voice because of the way they utilize ICT. We would not have seen a publication like “Voices of the Poor” (much less online on the World Wide Web) without ICT. Certainly donor agencies have reengineered to better utilize the technology, and certainly the interfaces among donor agencies, government and civil society organizations have been transformed by ICT technology. All of these changes have changed the dynamics of framing of development issues.

Now I see the Development Gateway and the Country Gateways as offering a virtual venue for framing development issues in cyberspace. The portals are independent, generally run by civil society organizations. They have public sector, private sector, and civil society members in their governance and in their online communities. They are designed to serve communities of interest and practice within the larger development community. Perhaps they can serve this important purpose of framing developing issues in an open and transparent way, giving voice to many stakeholders, and offering venue for competing ideas that are both substantiated with information and analysis and archived for reference.

If so, the Development Portals being developed by the DG Foundation might well serve as a new social institution built in cyberspace, the plays an important role in development.

The Green Revolution has been in many respects the prototypical example of the development and application of “Knowledge for Development”. R. E. Evenson and D. Gollin have published an article in the new Science magazine (Volume 300, Number 5620, Issue of 2 May 2003, pp. 758-762) titled Assessing the Impact of the Green Revolution, 1960 to 2000”. I find it exceptional, reporting on the work of the Special Project on Impact Assessment of the CGIAR. It is based on data on 11 crops in more than 100 countries, over the 40 year span. (Subscription needed to read the paper online.)

The report is very favorable about the effect of modern varieties, demonstrating that they have become increasingly important in all regions. It recognizes the lag in development of African agriculture, placing some of the responsibility on the unwise attempt to utilize varieties developed for other regions without adequate adaptation to African conditions, as well as economic and political factors.

The report recognizes the importance of National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS), but emphasizes the value of the International Agricultural Research Centers (IARCs). While the NARS have played an essential role in adapting new varieties to local conditions, and producing the varieties planted by farmers, they have obtained relatively little of their source improved varieties from other NARS. IARCs produced genetic materials are found in many new varieties.

The report recognizes that increased land under cultivation, increased irrigation, and increased chemical inputs are responsible for much of the increase in food production, and attributes only a portion to improved crop varieties. It suggests however, that without the work of the IARCs, food prices would be higher, there would be much less food production in developing nations, and that there would by much more widespread malnutrition in the world.

One important finding is that, contrary to common opinion, the Green Revolution did not end in the 1970’s, but has continued for at least four decades. While the technological base existed in 1960 to allow rapid improvement in yields in wheat and rice, it took decades to develop comparable technological bases for other major food crops. The development of new varieties continues, and the dissemination of improved varieties continues not only in Africa, but also in Asia and Latin America.

I would suggest that this is another example of a technological system. While the key element may have been the introduction of dwarf varieties of wheat and rice, that would grow heavy grain loads with fertilization and irrigation and not lodge (fall-over from the weight of the grain head), there have been many other related innovations – from development of pest and disease control, to the development of some 8,000 new releases of improved varieties for difference agro-ecological conditions, to massive investments in irrigation and agricultural chemical production. It is not surprising that the dissemination of a new technological system to hundreds of millions of farmers takes several decades (or longer).

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

MORE ABOUT FREEDOM OF THE PRESS has a story titled "Human Rights Watch Launches Internet Arrests Campaign On World Press Freedom Day" posted on May 2, 2003.

If you follow the link titled "International Freedom of Expression Exchange Clearing House" you find a great set of links, not only to the clearing house, but to many human rights sites working in Africa.

Monday, May 05, 2003


May 3, 2003 was World Press Freedom Day. Koïchiro Matsuura, the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) marked the day with a message to the world. He said, "at least 274 journalists were killed in war zones between 1990 and 2002. And most recently, of course, death or injury was visited upon a number of journalists covering the war in Iraq." Click here to read the entire speech.

Sunday, May 04, 2003


Another student last week asked for my opinion of the following syllogism:

· Access to information technology promotes education;
· Education promotes social growth;
· Access to information technology promotes social growth.

Unfortunately, while access to information technology can help those seeking to promote education, it doesn’t always do so. I have compared this kind of thinking in the past to the thinking of “Cargo Cults”. These cults were formed among native peoples in the Pacific during World War II who saw allied troops build runways, saw aircraft land, and saw previously unimagined wealth deposited from those aircraft. The cult members concluded that if they built nice airfields, then giant magic birds would come and bring them wealth too.

Putting a computer and Internet connection in a school does not magically make it a better school. Indeed, there are examples of computers used as decoration for the principals desk. More importantly, it is easy to divert scarce investment funds from priority needs to fund sexy information technology gadgets.

Similarly, good education can promote social growth, but the wrong educational investments can be counterproductive. Some indoctrination is mislabeled education. Educating people to perform jobs that don’t exist, or that they would never be entrusted with is not a good investment.

I suggested that econometric techniques don’t seem likely to work testing these broad assumptions unless one were able to introduce quality variables. Good investments in ICT for education might indeed promote education, and bad investments not do so. Good investments in education might promote social development, and bad investments not do so.

Of course there are other concerns. Are even good investments in ICT for education the best way of investing in ICT to promote social development? Perhaps ICT investments in government, industry or commerce would be faster or better. Perhaps providing ICT access to education is so correlated with providing it to government, industry, commerce, and other sectors that one could never differentiate their effects.

I might suggest the syllogism be revised to read:

· Access to information technology, in the right circumstances, often promotes education;
· Education, in the right circumstances, often promotes social growth;
· Access to information technology, in the right circumstances, often can help promote social growth.

Saturday, May 03, 2003


I know many things to be true.
One of the things I know to be true,
Is that some of the things that I know to be true
Are not true.

Julianne Gilmore

Whenever a philosopher says something is really real
You can be really sure that what he says is really real
Isn’t real, really.

G. H. Moore
Quoted by Clifford Geerts
in Local Knowledge

I have been reading Geertz’s book, and notably his chapter, “Common Sense as a Cultural System.” I suppose it, together with some reflection on the news coverage of the Iraq war, occasioned this blog entry.

Geertz’s suggests that some of what we consider “common sense” is the result of direct observation, but there is another level at which common sense is socially constructed. For most North Americans, it is common sense that disease is caused by germs. For most of the world’s people for most of history there were other common sense explanations of disease – offending the gods, witchcraft, bad air, etc. What seems to be obviously true is often (usually?) based on what other people have told us or what we have jointly decided with others to accept as true.

I find a lot of Internet sites dealing with development issues with “Good Practice” or (worse) “Best Practice” in development. I think these are prototypical compendiums of “common sense” of the relevant communities of practice. I mean this in the sense that they are what people have agreed to think of a “good” or “best” practices. I fear that these agreements too often – unfortunately - are based on little evidence. The belief that grass roots participation is necessary to ICT project success found in the ICT for Development community seems to me to have the same kind of epistemological justification as the belief that streams are the results of primordial kangaroo tail tracks found in communities of Australian aborigines.

Sometimes the community beliefs are held by nation-wide communities. Propaganda gained great power in the 20th century with the development of mass media. Hitler’s and Stalin’s regimes were able to saturate the attention of Germans and Soviets with information, much of which was false. The Iraqi Minister of Communications has gained a worldwide mystique by standing in front of camera’s boldly proclaiming as facts things that were visually demonstrated as false in the same newscasts. The scary thing is that in all these cases, the tactic proved relatively successful.

Yesterday I posted information on a freedom-of-speech case in Iran. Smart people, like Thomas Jefferson, seemed to believe that the only way one could assure that social construction would lead to truth in common sense was through free speech. I think theirs was not a passive free speech. If good information is to drive out bad information, it will be through people arguing about the quality of that information in public discourse. People who have information that is backed by evidence and theory have, according to the theorists of liberty, the responsibility to defend that truth in public forums, and the duty to challenge those presenting alternative information to prove it!

The United States has sought to combine freedom of speech with freedom of religion. That double heritage is important, and certainly my thinking has been conditioned by growing up in the U.S. But how does one reconcile the freedom to believe the teachings of a religion, with the freedom to argue against those teachings? Iranian theocratic leadership would apparently resolve that conflict by eliminating the freedom of speech, at least insofar as speech that challenges religious authority. In the U.S. I think people often reconcile the two by a political correctness, in which it is impolite to argue against the beliefs of others. ( Do good manners sometimes have as much impact as bad laws?)

The relative success of Creationism in the U.S. is perhaps evidence that fundamentalist Christian preachers are less reticent about criticizing scientists than scientists about criticizing fundamentalist belief. Good manners apparently allows criticism of science. But I believe people should argue as forcefully as possible against the imposition of bad science even when that imposition is based on religious doctrine. And I think that people ought to be able to argue the validity of information, the evidence adduced in support, and the criteria of validity – to question whether religious authority outweighs scientific evidence.

Does nationalism trump freedom of speech? Tough question! I was fortunate enough some years ago to hear Elena Bonner, the widow of Andrei Sakharov and a longtime human rights activist, who questioned why so many of us believe that national rights trump human rights. Why were we so willing to see abuse of human rights in countries while free nations stood by honoring national sovereignty; why should sovereign rights trump human rights? Should we be any more willing to see the imposition of (false) propaganda and the denial of freedom of speech and press by governments without speaking out?

The Declaration of Independence says “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Most Americans recognize this as a cornerstone of American political thinking. Note how different this position is from that of theocratic states holding that government derives its authority from divine will. Indeed, it was a direct challenge to British claims that its sovereignty in the colonies was based on the divine right of its king. Americans therefore tend to believe that citizens bear responsibility for the actions of their governments, and that minorities who coerce acceptance of unjust governments are criminal – and that those responsible for government are subject to sanctions when government transgresses. Such a belief seems reasonable in a world of free discourse, where people can choose what to believe, where they are educated to weigh evidence and make decisions, and where they believe theirs is the right to choose, or indeed rebel. Those beliefs are less tenable in those places where the media are saturated by lies, where there is no right to dissent, where discussion is discouraged, and where people are imprisoned for publishing unauthorized information and dissenting opinion, and where people feel powerless in the face of divine choice.

An Iranian student this week sent me an email, asking whether I believed that the “Internet is a kind of cultural invasion”. I don’t think the Internet is an invasion; I think that it is a information infrastructure. What I do think is that a cultural revolution may be needed to utilize the Internet fully as a tool for development. Closed cultures are unlikely to breed knowledge economies.

The ITU is the source for official statistics on communications infrastructure.. Especially useful is its ICT – Free Statistics" homepage.

I liked NUA very much as a source of statistics on the Internet. The summary data is linked to regional and country data pages.

NUA has merged with CyberAtlas which publishes its Big Picture”.

Friday, May 02, 2003


This blog is about knowledge for development. This entry is about freedom to post information on the Internet. I was raised to believe in freedom of speech, and I think it is a fundamental policy that underlies successful knowledge for development efforts.

The BBC has a story today that bloggers worldwide are uniting to fight the imprisonment of an Iranian, Sina Motallebi. Mr Motallebi was the person behind the Rooznegar blog (in a language I can't read). According to the BBC report, he “was a staff reporter on a reformist newspaper called Hayat-e-No which was shut down by the Iranian authorities in January. On 20 April he was arrested, reportedly because of interviews with the press on his website and for defending another former Hayat-e-No journalist who ran a cartoon in a newspaper that offended the government.” The BBC says that he is being held for unspecified charges, and that a posting by his wife describing his arrest was removed from his blog.

Pedram Moallemian, whose San Diego blog is called “The Eyeranian” is one of many bloggers who are posting on this problem. He has provided an online petition (to Reporters without Borders), calling for the release of Mr. Motallebi.