Sunday, December 24, 2006

Crossing the pond

From tomorrow I will be in the US taking my post as the Des Lee Visiting Lecturer for Global Awareness at Webster University and during this holiday season I plan to finally post all the relevant sessions of the WSIS follow-up meeting...

Monday, December 11, 2006

RIAA pulls its own mask off

It might sound surreal, but finally the RIAA has recognised that all the PR and lobby that has been conducting to justify stronger and longer copyrights for music have had nothing to do with rewarding authors or musicians but to augment the income of their own coffers. RIAA has made a presentation to the Copyright Royalty Board of the Library of Congress to reduce the rate the industry pay to music publishers and songwriters for the use of their creations when they record them. Is this the same RIAA that said that fair use should not be used as excuse to make profits on the "backs of hard-working creators"? I think that it is time that the word "creative" is erased from RIAA's mission statement and the real mission, "to foster a business and legal climate that supports and promotes our members' [...] financial vitality" is openly acknowledged. While it can be argued that RIAA has to protect the interests of its members, the record labels, the problem is that for almost a decade copyright law has been reformed and strengthened following the cries of RIAA to protect the "poor creators", while it seems that they are the first trying to squeeze them!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Private copy petition

Suw Charman, from the Open Rights Group, has created a petition on 10 Downing Street's petitions website "to create a new exception to copyright law that gives individuals the right to create a private copy of copyrighted materials for their own personal use, including back-ups, archiving and shifting format." If you are a UK citizen or resident, you can go there and sign it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

WSIS Follow-up Session 1- Advancing the information economy

Session one started with the words of Mr. Kwaku Osofu-Adarkwa, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Communications Ghana, who said that Ghana and Africa acknowledge the value of ICT for improving life standards, and explained that Ghana has developed an ICT for Accelerated Development Policy blueprint, which has been integrated as driver and enabler within the three-pronged Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy II. He then referred to how Ghana’s policies are succeeding in increasing the extent of telephone lines penetration, which implied a growth of 2121% in the number of mobile phone’s subscription and 147% fixed lines phones within five years. To keep the same rate of growth and to have a modern system, the government had engaged in a process of further privatisation and deregulation of the telecommunications’ sector. Between many actions and many legislative initiatives he mentioned, he made reference to the need to proper intellectual property rights (no further definition about what proper means in this context). Then, Mr Osofu-Adarkwa referred to the need of aid to further develop the required infrastructure, specially due to the OECD and International Institutions funding having dried up. To carry out the construction of the National Communications Fibre Backbone Infrastructure network, Ghana has received money from China in the form of a China Exim Bank concessionary loan ("concessionary loan" means a loan bearing no interest or a rate of interest that is certain agreed percentage points below the average cost of borrowing in the markets). Then, he carry on explaining some rural based projects “including the development of community information centres connected to broadband infrastructure at lower cost [I assume that this refer to lower to market price] to promote ICT application in rural economic activities”. He ended by emphasising the need for harmonisation of ICT measurement and the importance of building cheap computers in developing countries, giving examples of technology parks in Ghana to that effect.
The second speaker was Dr. Bart van Ark, Professor at the University of Groningen, made a presentation about ICT as the Key to Create More Productive Jobs. He started by identifying five main points: 1) the key to accelerate economic growth is the creation of more productive jobs; 2) ICT can be an important medium in supporting productive growth; 3) an analytical and measurement framework is needed to understand how ICT contributes to growth; 4) it is the use of ICT and not the production of or the investment in ICT what generates long term impact on growth; 5) for developing and emerging economies the policy tools are the same but the emphasis may need to be changed during the process of transition. He showed some date to explain how productivity growth delivered the largest contribution to world economic growth, but less so in developing countries and that the key to narrow any given per capita income gap was to raise productivity, so the task was to produce a measurement framework to grasp ICT’s productivity contribution. Professor van Ark went on by stating that ICT impacts growths through three channels: 1st channel, effect of investment in ICT raising output and labour productivity; 2nd channel, technological change in ICT producing industries leading to Total Factor Productivity (TFP) growth; and 3rd channel, TFP growth in industries that make intensive use of ICT. The important issue is that the growth achieved through channels 1 and 2 is a one time thing, while that accomplished through channel 3 are can be permanent and to make them so is the challenge. One of the problems is that comparative growth accounts are still in the early days, but there are some moves towards the creation of world comparative growth accounts. He put forward the argument that US productivity advantage over the EU was mainly due to better use of ICT, and then showed some numbers to explain that in economies in transition the emphasis changes from labour to Total Factor Productivity contribution to GDP growth. Before giving his conclusion, Professor van Ark analysed his previous assertion that policy instruments are not different between developing and advanced countries, by explaining that technology diffusion and innovation are the key to facilitate productivity growth, that investment in R&D and human capital (knowledge and skills) are important to enhance ICT impact on productivity and value creation, and that market reforms allocate resources to their most productive uses. He concluded that ICT is key to the creation of more productive jobs.
The session ended with the presentation by Dr. Michael Jacobides, from London Business School, Advanced Institute for Management Research and Harvard Business School, who started by saying that is not ICT but what you do with ICT is what fuels productivity, and he also mentioned the need to go from countries data to firm level data. He referred to why we care about IT by stating that it changes the structure of sectors (reduce transaction costs, leading to dis-integration), it changes nature of firms (why to keep things in one roof?), it changes the nature of work (e-lance workers and a new frictionless economy), and it produces a productivity surge linked to the ability of IT to drive change. It went on to say that, however, IT alone cannot do it and it requires complementary investments. IT works when there are new practices and HR, but IT does not get adopted by all countries and sectors, so how IT affects firms to be found. He mentioned a study conducted with funding from the Leverhulme Trust, which analysed sectors dis-integration to see what IT did, analysed sectors that failed to dis-integrate despite an early hype, made a comparative analysis of sectors in different countries, and examined how firms used IT to reconfigure their structures. Their study found that, at industry level, IT as weapon not a cause, that re-thinking IT theories would save trouble and waste, and that industry that could be re-structured had dramatic gains (it was about the processes that allow evolvability). At the firm level, the study found that IT helped firms change their boundaries (effective firms gain architectural advantage), that IT-facilitated changes affect the global division of labour (easier to use IT across geographies than firms), and that firms could use IT to re-organize their own architecture. Again, he repeated that IT was not a solution but a tool, an important one. He also mentioned that their study showed that IT by itself does not drive change; it facilitates it, and only in few occasions IT was the “bottleneck”. To tackle the bottlenecks that precluded IT to fulfilling its promised a need of reorganizing firms and industries that matters was found, but the focus should be on e-volvability. Then, he addressed the question of what should be funded to assist development, and answered that it by saying that the funds did not necessarily have to go to IT in general and that there was a need to identify what IT combine with practices to generate value (for example in developing countries the emphasis should probably be on mobile phones instead of on computers). Dr. Jacobides ended by saying that funds should not be exhausted on IT.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Opening words and adoption of the agenda

The morning is over (there were very few Latin American countries, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Mexico and later Uruguay) and we are in the lunch recess. The first point of the morning was the election of officers and Mr Jaya Ratman, Deputy Permanent Representative of Singapore to the United Nations and Mr. Amr Al Jowaily, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Egypt in Geneva, have been elected as chairperson and vice-chairperson/rapporteur respectively. The election was followed by words of the Secretary General of UNCTAD, Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, who, after the welcoming words of rigour, made reference to the “increasing empirical evidence of the link between the use of new information and communication technologies, growth and development.” He then referred to two diverging realities, one about the narrowing of the traditional digital divide measured in terms of Internet users, and the other the new broadband divide, which might well be relevant for business due to the need of broadband to engage in content-rich e-commerce transactions. Dr. Panitchpakdi also referred to the importance of ICT in the export sector, especially in the services sector, but all of the top 10 exporters of ICT enabled services are all developed countries, mentioning that soon China and India will make it to the top 10. To further support his claims, the UNCTAD’s Secretary General explained that “a 1% increase in a nation’s ICT index resulted on average in 0.1% increase in per capita GDP in 1996 and a 0.3% increase in 2003,” but it seemed that countries that had already reached certain level of ICT diffusion benefited most from further advancement in new technologies. So, governments can and should establish policies for building up their information societies, but measuring them would allow scrutinizing policies and that was what was needed.
His words were followed by a brief welcoming by a representative of the OECD, who spoke in the place of John Dryden, Deputy Director of STI, and mentioned the need to see whether and how ICT can benefit developing countries. She was followed by the Director of Policy Planning of the Employment Sector of ILO, Mr. Rashid Amjad, who talked about how promoting growht was about creating quality jobs, and that ILO was studying whether ICT translates into that.

Inside the WSIS-follow up meeting

I am inside the United Nations Palais des Nations E-Building at the UNCTAD Expert Meeting “In support of the implementation and follow-up of WSIS: Using ICTs to achieve growth" and development jointly organized by UNCTAD, OECD and ILO. Tonight I will post a summary of the day, a long day...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

WSIS in Geneva

From tomorrow I will be participating in the UNCTAD Expert Meeting in support of the implementation and follow-up of WSIS: Using ICTs to achieve growth and development, jointly organized by UNCTAD, OECD and ILO. It will take place at the Palais des Nations, here in Geneva, during 4 - 5 December 2006.
It is always nice to be back in Geneva. I think that the city synthesises the world and it is truly fitting that so many international organisations have their sit here. Geneva is both provincial and sophisticated, and it is as Swiss as cosmopolitan. I already made my walk across town to the Vieille-Ville and went to have a drink and a cigar to the "Demi Lune Cafe", a nice place that we discovered with Andres in May when he was here for a WIPO meeting and I came for another WSIS one. In addition, I don't know if Borges chose it to live, die and rest because it is so mystic, or the fact that Borges chose it to live, die and rest makes it so mystic...