Building consensus on internet access at the IGF
, May 2008
Whilst recognising that the IGF is currently viewed and operates primarily as a space for discussion, the paper finds that (specifically in the case of Access) it is also a space in which commonality of opinion occurs to the level at which ‘recommendations’ can be made and repeatedly asserted independently/individually in the workshops, and strategically reinforced at different levels of the IGF.
The levels addressed in the paper include:
- the three ‘thematic’ workshops on access
- the reporting back session
- and the main access plenary
The paper finds the generation and articulation of recommendations to be in line with the mandate of the IGF, specifically:
Advising all stakeholders in proposing ways and means to accelerate the availability and affordability of the Internet in the developing world.
Whilst a variety of recommendations were made, these can be categorised 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
This paper proposes that the convergence in opinions about how to address the challenges of access may be a result of a maturity in understanding of the issues relating to access that has built up over time and is discussed in other related bodies and fora. However, thinking and understanding of ‘tools’ and implementation procedures/processes of solutions for resolving/addressing these well understood issues and challenges cannot be described as having attained a similar level of maturity – in fact, particularly in the case of rural/local access they can be described as infantile.
There is therefore continued need and relevance for addressing Access at future IGF meetings, however the way in which this will need to be done will have to be different from the largely discursive identification of issues and challenges. The Internet governance community and indeed the portion of the world’s population waiting to gain access to the Internet would benefit from a more implementation-orientation to future discussions on Access.
One idea proposed by APC is that the IGF uses the format of the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG, established during the World Summit on the Information Society), or bodies such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to convene working groups to address complex issues that emerge during a forum. These groups can be made up of individuals with the necessary expertise and drawn from different stakeholder groups. These groups can then engage specific issues in greater depth, and, if they feel it is required, develop recommendations that can be communicated to the internet community at large, or addressed to specific institutions.
These recommendations need not be presented as formally agreed recommendations from the IGF, but as recommendations or suggestions for action from the individuals in the working group.
These working groups have a different role from the self-organised dynamic coalitions which we believe should continue. Dynamic coalitions have a broader mandate and are informal in nature. APC sees IGF working groups as differing from dynamic coalitions in that they should address particular challenges rather than a general issue area. They will also have a degree of accountability and an obligation to report that dynamic coalitions do not have. One such group could be a working group on competitive and collaborative models for access.