[view:chart=block=341] The World Bank Group played a catalytic role in spreading ICT in developing markets. During fiscal years 2003–2010, the Bank Group provided $4.2 billion in support of the ICT sector, of which $2.9 billion was to the poorest countries, including in Africa where it remained the largest multilateral financier in telecommunications. The Bank Group’s strategy focused on support for sector reform, increasing access to information infrastructure, and developing ICT skills and applications (that is, ICT components in projects in other sectors).

IEG’s evaluation found that the Bank Group’s most notable contributions to ICT development have been through support to sector reforms and to private investments for mobile telephony in difficult environments and in the poorest countries. One of the successful examples of such efforts is an IFC supported mobile operator which was the first to adapt a mass market strategy and established a Village Phone Program.

In other priority areas, including ICT applications, the Bank Group’s contributions have been limited. Targeted efforts to increase access beyond what was commercially viable have been largely unsuccessful. Support to universal access programs was largely superseded by the roll-out of phone services by the private sector, in some cases supported by World Bank sector reforms. Access for the poor has been more effectively supported through general, non-targeted interventions focused on the enabling environment and direct support to private investments. The World Bank’s record in ICT applications has been modest, despite their significant role in Bank projects. This reflects high risks of IT projects and shortcomings in the Bank’s delivery mechanism. ICT skills development, which is emerging as an important constraint to the diffusion and use of ICT, has received little attention in WBG projects.

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Information and communication technologies (ICT) can be leveraged for development, but harnessing this potential depends on an enabling environment for their production, diffusion, and use. Otherwise, technology can widen rather than narrow existing inequalities. Progress has been noteworthy in mobile telephony, where the gap between developing and developed countries is narrowing rapidly. But outside mobile technology, there are large and widening gaps specifically in the areas where ICT can have greatest developmental impact, such as in high-speed Internet access and broadband connectivity, the development of local information technology industries, and of ICT applications.

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