Why did ten APC members from around the world decide it was time to set up ICT policy portals in their countries?
By KH for APCNews
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, 07 June 2004
Ten APC members have created national portal websites tracking communications and information related policy in a joint initiative. The portals have been set up in Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Italy, Mexico, the Philippines, South Africa, Spain, the UK and Uruguay.
The portals which are all uniquely adapted to address each country’s particular situation all use free software that allows content-sharing in different languages and between multiple information databases hosted in different parts of the world.
APCNews asked some of the site administrators who were still putting last minute touches to their portals which were launched collectively on June 8 2004 to comment briefly on ICT policy in their countries and their hopes for the portals. We collect here some of their responses.
APCNews: Very briefly, can you give us an overview of the current information and communication technology (ICT) policy situation in your country?
ICT policy in Australia is governed by federal bodies that are in the process of being overhauled. For instance, the Australian Communications Authority and the Australian Broadcasting Authority are being merged. The National Office of Information Economy was recently merged with the Department of Communications and the Arts and organisations such as Electronic Frontiers Australia represent one of the few independent public advocacy groups tackling policy issues head-on. There are numerous academic/research bodies advocating on behalf of civil society, however very little is known about them within the civil society sector. There are also a small number of initiatives that are not aware of each other and as such, many efforts are duplicated. ICT policy is yet to mature in Australia and so too the advocacy movement. – c2o, Australia
Although there’s a new government, connectivity nationally is still dominated by telecommunications giants who in spite of the 2001 economic crisis are pulling out investment so that access to basic infrastructure is ever more difficult for economically excluded parts of Argentina. Re education, this government has a new platform and it looks like it is pushing the inclusion of new ICTs in schools. Unfortunately however, we’ve seen signs that this is not being done very publicly, there’s no multistakeholder discussion, and so there are big question marks over whether this initiative will be successful. – TAU, Argentina
ICT policy is not really visible because the political situation is making it impossible to build an information society following the principles established in the Declaration and work plan adopted by the government in Geneva in December 2003. – Societe Civil/Alternatives, Congo* [* The initiative participants confront radically different national contexts as was regrettably demonstrated by late news from the Congolese portal coordinators. APC was informed on June 7 that “Bukavu was re-taken by rebels last Thursday and there have been strong demonstrations all over the country after that. The situation remains unclear at this time and we might not be in a position to organise [their part in the launch]”. APC will post updates.]
A number of government initiatives led by civil society groups regarding free software have been supported by some politicians however nothing much has come of them. However, there is strong pressure being exercised by the economic sector to regulate the exportation of software and intellectual property rights. This pressure is more significant than ever given the fact that Colombia is in the middle of negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with the USA. At civil society level, there is a strong group of organisations led by Planeta Paz which is drafting public policies as part of the CRIS-Colnodo, Colombia
ICT policy in South Africa incorporates telecommunications and e-commerce. While discrete policy and legislative processes, the two are intertwined within the joint national strategies of equitable development and economic growth. The current state of ICT policy in South Africa is that the Telecommunications Act, Act 103 of 1996, is under review and e-commerce policy and cyberlaw is evolving. The resultant ICT policy will have a direct effect on the infrastructure, communications and applications segments of the market as well as the nature of e-government services.
The ICT policy hotspots in South Africa that express the highest incidence,
both at civil society and state level, are telecommunications regulation, taxation, universal access and affordability, intellectual property, domain naming, consumer protection – SANGONeT, South Africa
ICT policy is relatively new area for Bulgaria and the activities are mainly focused on government strategies for developing the IT sector as a pillar of the economic growth. Recently the state shows some commitment to pay attention at e-education, building telecentres in remote areas, etc. Generally such initiatives are related to implementation of EU programmes. Apart from the professional associations dealing with internet, software, communications, etc., civil society organisations in Bulgaria have not shown interest to ICT policy-making. – BlueLink, Bulgaria
The situation in Italy is at the moment quite alarming. The current Minister of Innovation and Technologies (Mr. Stanca, ex-CEO of IBM Italy) has been very active in pushing the e-government agenda, some advancement in FLOSS for public administration and some hints in e-democracy, but the general policy trends don’t come from his offices. It is the new Ministry for Communication and the Ministry for Arts and Culture that have made many major changes, starting with the recently-approved (after being rejected as unconstitutional by the President of the Repubblic Azeglio Ciampi) Telecommunication Act, all the way to the Urbani law that criminalizes peer-to-peer exchange on the internet (up to 3 years in prison for file-sharing copyrighted content).
In the last few years, there has been a strong push towards restricting freedom of expression and re-enforcing monopolies, especially in the media field. Starting from the EUCD directive on copyright (Italy was one of the first countries to make it part of national legislation, introducing a “pre-emptive tax” on all recording devices and supports), to the Gasparri law on television and digital broadcast (which confirms the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s control on 6 out of 7 national TV channels, more than 60% of the advertisement market, as well as compatibility in ownership of the largest publishing company in the country), to a government decree on Christmas Eve 2003 (nicknamed “Big Brother”), requesting internet providers to retain all data from their customers for 5 years, for investigation purposes. – Unimondo, Italy
In Mexico, telecom policy mainly favours the markets. There are some government projects aimed at making the uptake of ICTs more broad however the experiences are distinct, ranging from local governments who have been given ‘a computer and connection’ to local government projects which have focused on training their citizens in the use of ICT. However, if you look at the results, you’ll see that the only real sustainable community projects from the federal governments are those on paper.
There are also very few events telling people about ICTs. Despite the fact that the university sector is interested in the study and dissemination of information on the issues and several studies have been carried out together with civil society organisations, noone has managed to get citizens really involved in the ICT policy debate, let alone be part of decision-making. – LaNeta, Mexico
APCNews: Where does this new site fit into the dynamic of the ICT policy situation in your country? What changes do you hope to see as a result of this new initiative?
The key role the ICT policy could play as an advantage for civil society sector is not completely understood in Bulgaria, due to lack of relevant knowledge and on time information about ongoing processes and because of the foreign language barrier, which most of the documents related to this area set. We hope that the site we are developing will raise awareness on the issue and could even serve as a meeting point for the interested entities to collaborate on the ICT policy influence in favour of sustainability, good governance and social justice. – BlueLink, Bulgaria
We think the portal will provide a focal point for the organisations who are trying to participate in the ICT policy process. We’re not trying to be THE focal point though, we want to be able to generate contributions that will feed into that process. – TAU, Argentina
We hope that the web site will facilitate the documentation and dicussion of three concrete themes – ICT policy, Community media and surveillance. We expect three concrete public policy proposals to come out of the discussion. – Colnodo, Colombia
More information sharing on a more global level and across a wide variety of cultures. A learning experience and awareness of ICT policy and usage in different countries. – SANGONeT, South Africa
This site fits well in a two-year old initiative at the national level, seeking to bring together as many different actors from civil society as possible, who are involved in media/ICT policies – the national civil society platform on the information society. It was started as an initiative of the CRIS campaign in Italy, and has expanded at the WSIS, met the government’s delegation at a multistakeholder round table and is now promoting an appeal to the candidates for European parliament. Hopefully, the site can pull together both active participation and involvement of new actors, and the need of a more global perspective on ICT policies, legislations, initiatives and ideas by civil society. – Unimondo, Italy
In Mexico, little has been done nationwide to involve citizens in the policy debate, and much less in actual decision-making. There’s very little information available in the traditional media regarding Mexico’s national ICT policy. In general citizens receive very little official information from the state, and we hope the new Mexican Information and Communication Policy Portal will act as an invitation to the government to pay attention to the general public’s needs and not just to business’ needs. We also hope that Mexican civil society organisations will use the site to keep themselves informed of ICT policies being planned nationally and also to improve the self-organisation of policy advocates. -LaNeta, Mexico
This site is an attempt to bind the various organisations, individuals, researchers and advocates of ICT policy in Australia, with a focus on community outreach. It will do this by encouraging content syndication which should stimulate, rather than negate, the existing efforts of such organisations as Electronic Frontiers Australia and the Australian Computer Society. – c2o, Australia
We hope that Spanish civil society will use it to be more informed and to share information, with a view to influencing the situation after the recent national elections and the new government. Hopefully it will bring together the various organisations that are working separately and promote their work. – Pangea, Spain
APCNews: What kind of organisations do you expect to contribute to the initiative? In what ways?
Civil society groups, professional organisations dealing with ICTs, government institutions, etc. – BlueLink, Bulgaria
ICT researchers, advocacy groups, community broadcasters… – c2o, Australia
Trade unions representing media workers, the part of the academic sector which has started to use ICTs, women’s organisations building networks and citizen’s groups who see technology as a means to strengthen their actions. – TAU, Argentina
Grassroots associations, universities, NGOs, the private sector , schools, research institutes and the public sector – Societe Civil/Alternatives, Congo
The Open Knowledge Network (OKN) and the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) – SANGONeT, South Africa
The CRIS campaign, alternative media groups, ngos (who are getting more and more interested in the ICT4D field), advocacy and human rights organisations, internet rights groups, creative commons and FOSS/GnuLinux associations, consumer organisations, university research groups and students. – Unimondo, Italy
The organisations with whom we’ve been already working on information society issues. They include human rights groups, communications and media groups, academia, and women’s and youth organisations. – LaNeta, Mexico.
APCNews: It’s early days for these sites, but what for you has been the most encouraging
or unexpected result(s) of:
a- Setting up this national policy portal
By developing this site we hope to ensure better information flow among the stakeholders interested in the policy making in Bulgaria and to foster further actions on decision-making participation. We consider that as an opportunity to combine our efforts to link separate civil groups in active network and to encourage them to take a part in digital divide reduction and ensuring equal access to the opportunities ICTs give. – BlueLink, Bulgaria
The collaboration and information sharing possibilities – SANGONeT, South Africa
Learning how to work hands-on a content management system like APC ActionApps together with very helpful partners — finding a tool which was collectively built but centrally facilitated makes it all the more easy to implement it. – Unimondo, Italy
b- Being part of an international network setting up national policy monitors around the world?
Being part of an international networking initiative was among the crucial arguments for our decision to participate. The creative spirit of collaboration among the APC members enhances the common efforts and makes our joint work significant worldwide. This is an excellent opportunity to share knowledge, exchange experience and expertise. – BlueLink, Bulgaria
Being part an international network was a positive strategy to capitalise on world experience to build the site. – Societe Civil/Alternatives, Congo
From a technical point of view, it’s been incredible to be able to share contents dynamically amongst a group of sites all located in different countries. – Colnodo, Colombia
The general networking and communication involved by running the initiative. – SANGONeT, South Africa
The international aspect is essential, as it brings in not only a lot of information and ideas, but the possibility to exchange and learn from direct contact, as the sites take shape and, especially once launched, will hopefully be frequently updated and more integrated through content exchange. I did not expect to be constantly motivated by the frequent exchanges on the mailing lists and facilitation process: this has helped a lot. – Unimondo, Italy
Being part of this international project will give our project the status and respect required to ensure its uptake and longevity. In addition, the application of content aggregation will also assist in demonstrating the extensibility of contemporary internet applications, broadening access to necessary information. – c2o, Australia.