The term universal access is used in a wide variety of contexts to describe or demonstrate objectives and policies that governments implement to ensure that all their citizens have access to the benefits of modern economic life. It refers to the ability of everyone, regardless of region or location, socio-economic status, ethnicity, gender, disability, or any other factor, to access necessities. The term is widely used in the contexts of health care (especially for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS), primary education, electricity and energy, and water and sanitation, as well as Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).
Even if some governments themselves are not yet using the term universal access in these contexts, the international organizations and agencies which support their drives towards social and economic development are doing so. The concept is broadly promoted and widely accepted as the best expression of policies seeking to achieve equality and fairness of opportunity along with economic growth.
This module explores all aspects of universal access for ICTs. The value and importance of ICTs cut across all other sectors of the economy. ICTs are therefore increasingly recognized as a pillar of modern society. No other sector seems to work efficiently without them when the “information economy” takes root and grows. Also, no country, irrespective of its level of income, can ignore this trend; benefits of such diverse activities as governance, tourism and finance are critically dependent upon information and communications. This is why the term enabler is often used of ICTs.
For ICTs, universal access can be understood as a step towards universal service. It aims to increase access to ICTs throughout communities by a balanced distribution of points of access.
This chapter provides information critical to understanding the basic concepts of universal access and universal service, the progress being made towards universal access and universal service internationally, the rationale behind universal access policy, international trends and developments, and integration of universal access for ICTs with other national policies and programmes.
This module in other languages:
Version française (PDF)
Versión Española (PDF)