Who Benefits from Telecom? Understanding the Expressed Values Guiding the Emerging Telecommunications Regime

Posted in 2008 Journal


International Organizations are often responsible for promoting the values that become shared by a community of actors. These values play an important role in guiding conduct, forming policies, and defining rules. The values promoted in the telecommunications regimes of the past 150 years have remained somewhat consistent over time, centered on advocating telecommunications for the sake of commerce and economic prosperity. In this paper I evaluate four current texts provided by International Organizations in order to understand if the values are still centered on commerce, or if there is a shift to values centered on people. The results reveal that three of the four texts contain more statements about the benefits that telecommunications provide to people than to commerce or economies. A divergence in the value of telecommunications could have special implications for the future direction of telecommunications policies and developments.

The technologies, policies, governance, and standards of telecommunications have gone through many changes over the course of its history. The three regimes that have formed this history have moved from a monopolistic approach, mostly involving radio and telegraph technologies, to an institution-centered approach, including television and satellites, to the current regime, with a more diffused approach to governance, with a variety of state, institutional, and private actors involving more Internet and mobile phone technologies. Although these regimes have differed greatly from each other, they have shared a mostly congruent set of values. One of these values is the importance of the role that telecommunications plays in allowing the free flow of commerce to boost economic growth, encourage foreign investment, and facilitate development in less-developed countries. This commerce-based value has often been at the center of telecommunications discourse (Singh, 2003). An examination of almost any text promoting telecommunication services reveals that this value is still in place today. However, another value may be receiving more attention as the basis for promoting telecommunication services in the current telecom regime: the importance of these services for the benefit of people rather than economies.
The communication possibilities that telecom provides have often been advocated as vital for commercial and economic growth. The beneficiaries of telecommunications services are usually viewed as governments and markets. Most telecommunications changes are promoted as necessary for the strengthening of economies (Zacher, 2002), while the benefit to individual users has not been widely touted. However, there may be evidence that this value is gaining momentum in the current telecom regime. While the importance of the free flow of information for the sake of commerce is still widely discussed, some telecommunications discourse may now be focusing on individuals, rather than economies, and promoting the value of the free flow of information for the sake of knowledge-sharing, connectivity, and consumer satisfaction.
Shared values, or norms, play an important role in the formation of policies and agendas. These norms are defined as, “shared expectations about appropriate behavior held by a community of actors…[that] are shared and social” (Finnemore, 1996, p. 22-23). It is critical to understand expressed shared values because these values “guide conduct and objectives…and may be embodied in multilateral treaties, declarations and other sources of commitments” (Diller, 2004, p.652). The values discussed in the discourse of international organizations (IOs) are especially important to examine because these organizations often set standards for states and NGOs to follow (see Finnemore, 1993). In the telecommunications sector there have been rapid changes in new technologies over the last decade, especially in mobile phone and Internet communications. This has brought more attention to issues of access to these technologies, and development of their infrastructure. As more people become users of information and communication technologies, increased access becomes more pressing. Issues such as the digital divide, telecom trade liberalization, and telecom investment are being more widely discussed. International Organizations that deal with these issues are important players in promoting values pertaining to the importance of increased telecommunications access.
In order to understand which values are being promoted in the current telecom regime, I examine how certain IOs allude to the benefits of telecommunications in order to understand if values are still commerce-driven or people-driven. A divergence in the value of telecommunications benefiting economies versus individuals could have special implications for the future direction of the current telecom regime.
There are four international organizations that are particularly prominent players in the emerging telecom regime. These are the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the International Telecommunications Union, The World Trade Organization, and the World Bank. All four of these IOs deal largely with policy, funding, and regulation of telecommunications, and publish many reports and articles related to the telecom sectors. In order to understand the values expressed by these IOs, one text is selected for each organization that represents a publicly available document in which the importance and benefits of increased telecommunication services are discussed. Then the language within the texts is examined, with an analysis of the benefits and beneficiaries that are named. This research will seek to understand whether telecommunication services are currently being promoted under economy-centered or people-centered values.

Acting on Shared Beliefs

Norms and values play a large role in the actions of state and non-state actors. One way to explain this is through the constructivist approach to understanding why actors behave certain ways, which focuses on the role that collectively held beliefs play in shaping interactions between people and groups. This approach argues that it is not just material gains that underlie these interactions, but that people act primarily on widely shared ideological beliefs (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001). Furthermore, these beliefs are constructed and shared through language exchanges (Searle, 1995). While this does not mean that these norms and values only exist within the world of language, they do depend on “linguistic elements of the facts” (Searle, 1995, p. 60) in order to be shared and promoted. This is why examining the language used by several different actors can help us to gain an understanding of what the widely held norms are. Even when the language is not used for the purpose of describing values, these values are still embedded in the language.
International organizations have a tremendous influence on the diffusion of norms and values. They do this by forming agendas, establishing popular discourse, creating and enforcing rules, and declaring which states and non-state actors are legitimate (Park, 2005). Martha Finnemore’s research on norm diffusion has found that international organizations often generate norms that trickle down to states and non-state actors (Finnemore & Sikkink, 1998). Barnett and Finnemore (2004) explain how this trickle-down works, by arguing that international organizations are essentially large bureaucracies that use their knowledge base to Lose Weight Exercise power over non-IO actors. They do this by creating incentives for actors to conform to values and norms, either through legally binding instruments, financial incentives, or through shaming and exclusion. In doing so, these IOs actually create social realities, and these realities are reinforced by the current widely held norm: that IOs are seen as the definers of guidelines, practices and standards. While other actors, such as NGOs, are increasingly sharing this power, IOs are still considered to be the primary players in setting the agenda for global governance, and in creating the values that help underlie those changes.
These values may not always arise from within IOs, but may be adapted from states or NGOs (Park, 2005). Regardless of where the values originate, IOs still play a large role in their diffusion. Finnemore (1993) argues this point by demonstrating how the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) promoted the idea that states are responsible for sponsoring and managing scientific developments through state-run bureaucracies. She argues that states worked to create these bureaucracies with the help of UNESCO in order to accommodate the new norm that science was a state responsibility. Furthermore, Finnemore points out that the language UNESCO used in discussing this norm was highly declarative, and no attempts were made to argue in favor of the norm, but rather it was discussed as a given. UNESCO did not provide evidence that state-run bureaucracies are better at promoting scientific advancement, but instead simply explained that states “should” make it their responsibility. This demonstrates both the power of international organizations in defining values, as well as how language is used to construct norms and values as inherent principles, without framing the discourse as open for argument or debate.
Many scholars have also emphasized the importance of values for developing rules (see Diller, 2004; Singh, 2003; Zacher, 2002). Diller, for example, argues that values can even be shared between actors with differing goals and positions. She points out that actors with different viewpoints on globalization and labor law have been drawn together by the shared belief that a minimum set of labor standards is needed to promote positive conditions for a globalized marketplace. Diller argues that this principle is exemplified in a declaration by the International Labor Organization titled “Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work,” which describes certain core labor standards as fundamental and inherent. These standards were later promoted by other IOs such as the OECD and United Nations. While Diller makes the point that international law is still deficient at supporting these basic principles, she argues that the shared values are critical to continuing to promote trust, guide behavior, and even contribute to legal, multilateral treaties and declarations.

Examining the Values Discourse

To answer the question about how international organizations discuss the values of telecommunications, the language used in telecommunications statements from four international organizations are analyzed. These include the World Bank’s Global Information and Communication Technologies Department, the World Trade Organization’s Symposium on Telecommunications (for the 10th anniversary of GATS Protocol 4), the International Telecommunications Union’s mission statement and Secretary General’s forward (from the “About Us” page of their website), and the OECD’s Communications Outlook report on information and communication technologies (ICTs are part of telecommunication services). All of these texts were selected because they are easily available to the public, (all can be found on the organizations’ websites, see reference list for URLs), and are written in a non-technical, non-specialized register. The texts are all centered on discussions of the advances and changes in telecommunications, and are brief and summative. All of the texts are similar in length (approximately 1000 words) and were written within the last few years. The timeliness, accessibility, and summative nature of these texts are important for this analysis because it is in these kinds of texts that values are most often discussed.
For this research, statements within the texts that mention any benefits of telecommunication services are analyzed. These statements are then analyzed in order to see who or what is described as benefiting from telecommunications services. For this research beneficial statements are defined as those which link increased telecommunications funding, access, or infrastructure with a positive result.
Most statements can be categorized as either people-centered or economy-centered. Statements that refer to users, humans, people, or “us”, are people-centered. People-centered statements also refer to consumers, communities, populations, and small business owners. Economy-centered statements focus on economic concepts, such as competition, development, investment, commerce, and economic growth. While these areas obviously benefit people, they are more abstract, and less closely correlated with human beings. Economy-centered statements also tend to center around revenues, large corporations, operators, and governments. Some statements may be difficult to label as either economy-centered or people-centered, such as those that refer to the world, science, networks, or devices. These statements are relevant, but will not be analyzed.
An example of a people-centered statement is “increased mobile phone competition has led to lower prices for consumers,” while an economy-centered statement would be “increased mobile phone competition has led to more economic growth.” For the analyses of the four International Organizations the total number of statements that discuss the benefits of increased telecommunication services are counted and compared to those that are people-centered, and those that are economy-centered. Other statements that link the benefits of telecommunications to neither people nor economies (such as “the globe”) will be counted in the total, but not discussed in the analysis.

International Organizations and The Discussion of Values

The World Bank’s Global Information and Communication Technologies Department
The World Bank and International Finance Corporation’s joint Global Information and Communication Technologies (GICT) department is the World Bank Group’s main department for handling policy and funding issues pertaining to ICTs in developing countries. The GICT offers policy advice, loans, grants and investments to ICT projects in poor countries. Their webpage is maintained within the World Bank’s main website, and for this analysis the language used in the “About” section of the GICT webpage is analyzed, focusing on the 1300-word section discussing the results of GICT’s work in ICTs. This section describes the various benefits that GICT funding and policy advice has had on the receiving countries.
Of the twenty-four statements that mention the benefits of increased telecom investment and growth, fifteen of them are people-centered . Telephone users are mentioned frequently, as well as Internet subscribers and communities of interest. Some examples of these statements include “the number of fixed telephone lines in the country approximately tripled, the number of mobile subscribers expanded…and the number of public telephones increased,” and “funds have been particularly effective in supporting projects that emphasize networks and communities of interest to improve communication.” Improved access is also mentioned as a benefit a few times, without any further explanation of why improved access might be beneficial. This demonstrates that the writers of this webpage assume a common understanding that telecommunication access itself is beneficial to people.
The economy-centered benefits that are mentioned by GICT tend to focus on increased competition and expansion of e-commerce. They write, for example, that “over 120 countries have at least some competition in the digital mobile sector and more than 88 countries have privatized…” and “support for ICT policy reform…has allowed the expansion of e-commerce and e-government in our client countries.” In all, less than half of the benefit statements are economy-centered, while the majority is people-centered.
OECD Communications Outlook: Information and Communication Technologies
The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development is a forum for member countries to share knowledge and resources in order to assist economic growth and development, and raise living standards. Within the Directorate for Science, Technology, and Industry the OECD reviews and promotes telecommunication policy, as well as putting out a biennial report on the outlook of ICTs. For this research the three-page summary of their 2007 report was analyzed, which highlights the overall performance of ICT sectors in OECD and non-OECD member countries.
In the 2007 Communications Outlook report thirty-one examples of statements that describe how telecommunications have improved over the last two years were found. Of these, nineteen were people-centered, while twelve were economy-centered. The majority of the people-centered statements were centered around subscribers and consumers. These statements included: “Users can now subscribe to multiple-play offers…”; “Consumers are benefiting from the dismantling of barriers between markets…”; and “subscribers in one country can easily sign up for local phone [in other countries]”. Other beneficiaries mentioned in the report include homes, residents and victims of the digital divide, seen in statements such as “[has] improved connectivity for residents,” and “Wi-Fi networks are being promoted as a way to improve public services and solve digital divide problems.” The economy-centered statements tended to focus on revenues and markets, such as “The growth and development of communication markets is also reflected in trade of communication equipment.” Like the World Bank, the majority of OECD benefit statements are people-centered, with under half being economy-centered.
International Telecommunications Union, “About Us”
The International Telecommunications Union is the primary United Nations body responsible for establishing and coordinating standardization of information and communications technologies. The ITU also promotes access to ICTs and works on cyber security and next generation networks. Although the ITU has generated several texts from the World Summit on the Information Society, all rich with promoting the benefits of increased telecommunications, the “About Us” page of the ITU’s website was chosen because it is a more concise introduction to the public about what the ITU is about. The “About Us” page contains three brief sections which were analyzed for the research: a forward from Secretary General Hamadoun I. Touré, the ITU’s mission statement, and a section on the ITU’s role in global communications. The three sections total approximately 1,011 words, and contain twenty-nine statements discussing the benefits of telecommunications. Of the twenty-nine statements, eighteen of them are people-centered. The ITU text is particularly people-centered, as there are a large number of “we” and “us” statements, something the other four texts do not contain. There are also some mentions of “the world’s inhabitants” and “human beings.” The economy is only mentioned once, and most of the non-people-centered phrases are related to a mix of concepts, such as “security,” “the world,” and “countries.” Two statements are particularly interesting because they mention how telecommunications benefit economic concepts, which then benefit people. For example, one phrase reads “…affordable reach of information and communication to contribute significantly towards economic… development of all people.” This sentence highlights how increased access to ICTs benefits economies, which then benefit human beings, drawing a more concrete link between people and ICTs. Another phrase, “…adopting the globally agreed technical standards that have allowed industry to interconnect people…” draws a link between ICTs, industries and people. Either of these statements could have stopped at “economies” or “industry,” but instead went further, resulting in a people-centered approach. Again, like the World Bank and OECD, the majority of the ITU’s benefit statements are people-centered, rather than economy-centered.
WTO Symposium on Telecommunications
In February 2008 the World Trade Organization celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Basic Telecommunications Agreement, also known as GATS Protocol 4. The symposium was organized around applauding the changes in telecommunications over the past decade, and discussing the future of the industry. For the symposium a press release for Director General Pascal Lamy’s opening keynote address was published. This text was analyzed because it offers an excellent opportunity to explore the discourse of the WTO’s outlook on telecommunications liberalization because the text is neither technical, nor specific and was created specifically for the general public.
In this press release (consisting of 1095 words) there are eleven mentions of the benefits of increased telecommunications. Eight of these statements indicate that the beneficiaries of increased telecom access are economy-centered, while only three of the statements mention people as the beneficiaries of increased telecommunications trade.
The opening statement for the press release, for example, mentions Lamy hailing “liberalization of trade in telecom services as a vital tool in economic growth and development…” and the second statement discusses “how crucial liberalizing services trade can be for economies.” Other benefits mentioned are the increased success in attracting foreign investment, and the benefits to business enterprises. The only benefits to people that are mentioned are about mobile services, which have “connected many more people”, and internet-user penetration, which has increased. One very people-centered statement is given, in which Lamy describes how a barber in South Africa can now deposit receipts over his mobile phone. Not only did the World Bank’s text have far fewer benefit statements overall than the other three texts, but they also had very few people-centered statements. While the World Bank is primarily concerned with the flow of commerce, this does not preclude the possibility of highlighting the benefits of telecommunications to human beings. However, the majority of their statements focused on the economic and commercial benefits of changes in telecom.
A Change in Values
All four of the texts examined in this paper use some people-centered language, but the ITU, OECD and World Bank use it considerably more than the WTO. While all of these organizations have different roles, sizes, and scope, they all promote values and norms related to the telecommunications sector. The language assessed in this research provides evidence that the idea that telecommunications are beneficial to human beings has become a widely held value. This fact could have implications for the future directions of telecommunications as IOs and other actors use this value to promote certain policies and funding allocations. There are also implications of this value on trade negotiations, especially since the WTO does not seem to be promoting the same value that other IOs are promoting. This divergence could mean less support from WTO member states in regards to telecommunications trade liberalization negotiations. The WTO may be able to garner more public support for these negotiations by pointing to more people-centered benefits of telecom liberalization.
While this research has not focused on reconciling current practices with the values these IOs promote, understanding the values themselves remains important because they set up common ground for agreements and hold actors responsible for the values they call upon. Further research into matching values with practices would be useful in understanding the role that values play in affecting actual changes in the behavior of individual and group actors.

Reference List

Barnett, M. & Finnemore, M. (2004). Rules for the world: International organizations in global politics.Ithaca, NY and London: University Press.
Diller J. M., (2004). Globalization, values and international law in the world of work, (J.C. Javiller & B. Gernigon, Eds.), Les Normes Internationales du Travail: un Patrimoine pour l’avenir – Mélanges en l’honneur de Nicolas Valticos. BIT, Genève, pp. 645-657.
Finnemore, M. (1993). International organizations as teachers of norms: The United educational, scientific and cultural organization and science policy. International Organization, 47 (4), 565–97.
Finnemore, M. (1996). National interests in international society, Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press.
Finnemore, M. & Sikkink, K. (1998). International norm dynamics and political . International Organization, 52 (4), 887–917.
Finnemore, M. & Sikkink, K. (2001). Taking stock: The constructivist research in international relations and comparative politics. Annual Review of Political Science, 4, 391–416.
Park, S. (2005). Norm diffusion within international organizations: case study of the World Bank. Journal of International Relations and Development, 8, 111–141.
Searle J. (1995). The Construction of social reality. New York: Free: 59-78.
Singh, J.P. (2003). International communication regimes, overview. (D. H. Johnston, Ed.) Encyclopedia of international media and communications. San Diego: Academic Press.
Zacher, M. (2002). “Capitalism, technology, and liberalization: The international telecommunications regime, 1865 – 1998” ( J. N. Rosenau & J. P. Singh, Eds.) Information technologies and global politics: The changing scope of power and governance, State University of New Press.

Texts Analyzed

International Telecommunications Union, (2008). Who we are. Retrieved July 28, 2008 from http://www.itu.int/net/about/index.aspx
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (2007). Information and communication technologies: OECD communications outlook 2007. Paris, France.
The World Bank. (2008). Global information and communication technologies: Who we are. Retrieved July 28, 2008 from http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTINFORMATIONANDCOMMUNI…
World Trade Organization (2008). WTO DG Lamy celebrates benefits of opening trade in telecoms, (press release). Geneva, Switzerland.