Leveraging the Capabilities Approach for Development Oriented Telecommunications Infrastructure Development

Emuekpere, Undiga Oko (2016). 'Leveraging the Capabilities Approach for Development Oriented Telecommunications Infrastructure Development' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

That the world is in the throes of transforming into an information society where access to and usage of telecommunications networks adds a new dimension to participation and civic engagement appears to be widely accepted. This recognition of the importance, if not primacy, of telecommunications networks has driven the integration of telecommunications into the heart of the international development agenda and the inclusion of such concerns in national policy. If in truth the world is transforming into an information society, then it would appear that the possession of ICT- mediated capabilities, in addition to their offline comparators would be essential for effective citizenship. If that is the case, then perhaps a modification of the informational focus of the metrics of social justice may be required to highlight the importance of this change. This paper proposes to explore how the Capability Approach CA, may be used to provide theoretical anchorage for telecommunications policy and regulation especially regarding universality.   
The capability approach CA is widely recognised as being a powerful tool for the making of better development oriented policy and legislation. Sen’s central tenet of development as freedom and poverty as unfreedom supplies a powerful framework for making and analysing development policy that is likely to achieve its objectives. The identification of a core group of capabilities can help to focus the mind of the policymaker on what the objectives of the policy being considered should be and the best targets to ensure that these objectives can be achieved. In this way the CA can facilitate the development process by directing policymaking at the highest level. This is different from the use of the CA as a diagnostic tool for the evaluation of pre-existing frameworks as is the case in the widely acclaimed Human Development Report.
The argument presented in this paper is that not only is access to and usage of telecommunitions facilitatory of development and participation, but it can also become a veritable tool for exclusion. Some scholars speak of a growing trend in Internet ‘balkanisation,’ electronic redlining, cherry picking and similar practices where communities are completely bypassed in the deployment of telecommunications networks due to poverty or high deployment costs. If the informational focus of social justice is modified to accommodate these social changes, then universality in telecommunications will naturally be accorded greater priority in national planning. This is where the CA can play an important role by helping to establish clear parameters which can guide the policymaker to set targets for regulation which enhance ICT-mediated capabilities. What is being proposed in this paper is the linking of identified ICT-mediated capabilities with telecommunications network development and universality regulation targets.
A close examination of the legal and institutional framework for the realisation of these goals often takes a very narrow and infrastructure based approach to the realisation of higher levels of voice subscription. To be truly development and participation oriented, not only the access to services but also the capabilities which they enable need to be considered carefully. For instance, the extension of backhaul infrastructure may enable the erection of a mobile telecommunications mast to a community but the quality of service provided may not be adequate to sustain the levels of Internet access needed for e-government services.

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