WSIS Follow up: APC contribution to the session on Development-oriented policies for an inclusive information society

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By Anriette Esterhuysen (APC)
, June 2008

The Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) is one of the UN bodies that took up the follow up of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). This is APC’s contribution to a CSTD meeting meeting dealing with development-oriented policies for a social-economic inclusive information society, including access, infrastructure and an enabling environment, that took place on May 2007 in Geneva, as part of a series of WSIS follow-up meetings.

11th meeting of the Commission of Science and Technology for Development, 26-30 May 2008

Contribution from the Association for Progressive Communication to Agenda Item 3: Development-oriented policies for a social-economic inclusive information society, including access, infrastructure and an enabling environment: 28 May 2008

Thank you for the floor Chairperson.

We want to express our appreciation for the report from the Secretary General, and the rich and interesting presentation by Mr. Parminder Jeet Singh from IT for Change. We would like to make comments first on Mr. Singh’s presentation, and then on the report from the Secretary General.

Comments on Mr. Singh’s presentation

Our comments are informed by APC’s involvement in ICT for development efforts since the early1990s. We agree with Mr. Singh that focusing on broadband policy in a narrow way is not helpful. However, we do believe that it is necessary to prioritise the development of broadband infrastructure.

Development policy, and development strategy should be the starting point for infrastructure development initiatives, but infrastructure development is a key part of development strategy. All development strategy should include a focus on the development of information and communications infrastructure, and broadband is an essential element of such infrastructure.

Many excellent ICT for development initiatives over the last 20 years have floundered because of lack of affordable and sufficient access. The ‘content vs. pipes’ debate tends to undermine the importance adopting integrated approach.

We want to point out that broadband does not just facilitate access to the internet; it is a technology neutral and supports telephony, radio, and television, and other data-management systems and processes. It is a mother in a remote village being able to access her child support grant from a nearby local government office without having to spend a large portion of it on traveling to the nearest town.

With regard to his point that user-generated content on the internet is largely from developed countries, we believe that Mr. Singh should be careful not to underestimate the capacity of people in developing countries to produce, manage and benefit from user generated content. For example, during the recent post-election violence in Kenya the internet and mobile phones were used extensively to monitor and manage outbreaks of violence.

Content on the internet does not exist separately from content “off” the internet. Content that is relevant at the local level exists already, e.g. local government, clinics, community centres; farmers all have and manage content, in various ways. Effective access and sufficient bandwidth make it possible to share and manage this content more effectively.

On the suggestion that broadband is an infrastructure that is not relevant to poor communities, we want to point out the following:

Development actors are diverse. Local authorities, NGOs, small and medium enterprises and other ‘intermediaries’ are key enablers of development. Access to broadband infrastructure can stimulate local economic and social development in ways that benefit individuals and communities that do not have direct access to broadband. It can enable bottom-up feedback from citizens to government. It can strengthen local media, languages and culture.

The capacity of effective, affordable access to enable bottom-up development should not be underestimated. It can help government with service delivery, support greater transparency, and help communities to hold government accountable.

Specific points on the report of the Secretary General on development –oriented policies for an inclusive information society:

The report presents a good overview and good recommendations. We would like to build on these, drawing on consensus that emerged during workshops and plenary sessions on increasing access to the internet during the Internet Governance Forum in Rio de Janeiro, November 2007. Whilst a variety of recommendations were made, these can be categorized into the following broad areas:

  • Enhancement of the development of and access to infrastructure – in recognising that the availability of internet infrastructure needs to be considered hand-in-hand with the affordability of the infrastructure, this recommendation calls for the consistent implementation of competitive regimes and the creation of incentives that facilitate the co-existence of competitive and collaborative models for providing and/or improving access.
  • Localisation of ICT and Telecom policies and regulation – refers to calls for a review of the ways in which access issues are articulated and ICT/Telecom policy and regulation is formulated. It asks that the translation/customisation of largely urban-centric policies be challenged and that greater emphasis be given to demand-side characteristics and the needs of rural/local communities.
  • Promoting the development potential of ICTs and integrating access infrastructure initiatives with other basic needs – calls for a multi-sectoral approach to infrastructure development and regulation; specifically the integration of ICT regulation and policy with local development strategies, as well as the exploitation of complementarities between different types of development infrastructure

We also want to point out the need to consider the impact of increasing broadband infrastructure on sustainable energy use:

  • Energy: broadband infrastructure depends on reliable energy supply. In the context of the increased cost of electricity, and the growing concern about climate change, attention should be given to optimising the use of renewable energy sources when new infrastructure is being developed. Infrastructure sharing can also be a form of energy saving.

We also want to suggest that alongside strategy to increase broadband infrastructure governments consider related areas of policy and regulation, such as:

  • Freedom of information, freedom of the press, expression and freedom of association: the WSIS made a commitment to human rights as integral to an inclusive information society. Access to broadband will only be utilised to its full potential if these freedoms and rights are assured.
  • Protection of privacy
  • Ensuring that ICT regulatory agencies have the capacity to effectively regulate in the public interest in the face of convergence and emerging technologies.
  • Network neutrality
  • Creating opportunities, through for example incentives and an enabling regulatory environment, for community-owned networks and community media, including community radio and television
  • Consumer rights and protection
  • Labour and employment policy, in particular to protect the rights of online and teleworkers

An integrated approach is possible

As mentioned by, for example, the government of India, strategy to develop broadband infrastructure can be integrated with strategy to address specific development challenges e.g. in food security.

Producing broadband policy should not become an additional burden placed on developing countries, and approached in a technocratic way. It can and should be addressed in existing development and e-strategies and be integrated with poverty reduction strategies. The representative from Lesotho gave an excellent description of how dispersed, and exhausting multiple policy and strategy efforts can be for governments that have limited capacity and resources.

Follow up and implementation at national level

The production of integrated national reports on follow up an implementation can help with improving coordination, and participation and assessment at national level. As mentioned by several delegates, including the representative from Chile, all stakeholders need to be involved in national strategy and implementation. National reporting on follow up and implementation will not only help with documenting and analysing stakeholder participation, it can encourage it. It will also enable bottom-up monitoring by citizens and non-governmental entities (including civil society and business) and in this way strengthen accountability and good governance.

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