Digitalization as a common good. Contribution to an inclusive recovery

Essay by Julia Pomares, Andrés Ortega & María Belén Abdala: “…The pandemic has accelerated the urgency of a new social contract for this era at national, regional, and global levels, and such a pact clearly requires a digital dimension. The Spanish government, for example, proposes that by 2025, 100 megabits per second should be achieved for 100% of the population. A company like Telefónica, for its part, proposes a “Digital Deal to build back better our societies and economies” to achieve a “fair and inclusive digital transition,” both for Spain and Latin America.

The pandemic and the way of coping with and overcoming it has also emphasized and aggravated the significance of different types of digital and connectivity gaps and divides, between countries and regions of the world, between rural and urban areas, between social groups, including income and gender-related gaps, and between companies (large and small), which need to be addressed and bridged in these new social digital contracts. For the combination of digital divides and the pandemic amplify social disparities and inequalities in various spheres of life. Digitalization can contribute to enlarge those divides, but also to overcome them.

Common good

In 2016, the UN, through its Human Rights Council and General Assembly, qualified access to the internet as a basic fundamental human right, from which all human rights can also be defended. In 2021, the Italian Presidency of the G20 has set universal access to the internet as a goal of the group.

We use the concept of common good, in a non-legal but economic sense, following Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom 6 who refers to the nature of use and not of ownership. In line with Ostrom, digitalization and connectivity as a common good respond to three characteristics:

  • It is non-rivalrous: Its consumption by anyone does not reduce the amount available to others (which in digitalization and connectivity is true to a certain extent, since it also relies on huge but limited storage and processing centers, and also on network capacity, both in the access and backbone network. It is the definition of service, where a distinction has to be made between the content of what is transmitted, and the medium used.)
  • It is non-excludable: It is almost impossible to prevent anyone from consuming it.
  • It is available, more or less, all over the world….(More)”.