Frequently Asked Questions

Citizens guide to the airwaves

Citizens’ guide to the airwaves

There is no simple definition of spectrum. From a technical viewpoint, spectrum is the range of electromagnetic waves that can be used to transmit information. From a practical point of view, however, the effective management of spectrum embraces not only electromagnetic waves, but the technology used to transmit those waves, as well as the economic and political aspects of what is now a valuable national resource.

Our understanding of spectrum has changed a great deal since Marconi first spanned the Atlantic with his “wireless telegraph message”. In 1902, he used the whole spectrum available at the time to send a few bits per second over thousands of square kilometres.

The spark transmitter used for Marconi’s telegraph occupied all electromagnetic frequencies available to existing receivers. As a result, no one could use radio for communication within a 3500 km radius of the transmitting station in England.

If other users wanted to send messages in that area, they needed to coordinate their transmissions in different “time slots” in order to share the medium. This technique became known as Time Division Multiple Access or TDMA.

Users located further than 3500 km from Marconi’s transmitter could use the spectrum because the power of radio waves decreases as we move farther away from the transmitter. Reusing the spectrum in different geographical areas is called Space Division Multiple Access or SDMA.

Marconi was later able to build a transmitter that could restrict emissions to just a range of frequencies, and a receiver that could be “tuned” to a particular frequency range. This allowed many users to transmit in the same area (space) and at the same time. This process of assigning different frequencies to different users became known as Frequency Division Multiple Access or FDMA. With FDMA, radio became a practical means of communication, and the only technology capable of reaching ships in open seas.

National agencies were created to coordinate allocation of frequencies to different users. Since radio waves are not stopped by national borders, however, international agreements were also needed. The international organization that had been created to regulate the transmission of telegrams among different countries was commissioned to allocate use of electromagnetic spectrum. Today, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), is the oldest United Nations agency, and issues recommendations for frequency use to 193 United Nations (UN) members.

The use of spectrum for military applications raised a new issue. “Jamming” refers to intentional interference in spectrum to impede communication . To make jamming more difficult, a new technique was developed in which the information to be transmitted was combined with a special mathematical code. Only receivers with knowledge of that particular code could interpret the information. The coded signal was transmitted at low power but using a very wide interval of frequencies. This technique was later adapted to civilian applications is called Code Division Multiple Access or CDMA. Today CDMA is used extensively in modern communications systems.

In summary, spectrum can be shared among many users by assigning different time slots, different frequency intervals, different regions of space, or different codes. A combination of these methods is used in the latest cellular systems.

Figure 1: Cellular sharing of spectrumFigure 1: Cellular sharing of spectrum

Besides issues of national sovereignty defence, very strong economic and political interests play a determinant role in the management of spectrum, largely due to the rapidly increasing economic value of spectrum. Spectrum management strategies also need to be constantly updated to stay in tune with advances in communication technologies.

Through ever advancing modulation and coding techniques, telecommunications engineers are discovering more and more efficient ways to transmit information using time, frequency and space diversity. Their goal is to increase “spectrum efficiency”, defined as the number of bits per second (bit/s) that can be transmitted in each Hertz (Hz) of spectrum per square kilometre of area.

For example, the first attempts to provide mobile telephone services used a powerful transmitter conveniently located to give coverage to a whole city. This transmitter (called a Base Station in this context), divided the allocated frequency band into a number, say 30, channels such that only 30 conversations could be held simultaneously in the whole city. As a consequence, the service was very expensive and only the extremely wealthy could afford it.

This situation prevailed for many years until advances in electronic technology allowed implementation of a scheme to take advantage of “space diversity”. Instead of using a single powerful transmitter to cover the whole city, the area to be serviced was divided into many “cells”, each one served by a low power transmitter. Cells that are sufficiently far apart can use the same channels without interference. This is known as “frequency reuse”.

With the cellular scheme, the first 10 channels use frequency band 1, the second 10 channels frequency band 2 and the remaining 10 channels frequency band 3. This is shown in figure 1, in which the colours correspond to different frequency bands. Notice that the colours repeat only at distances far enough to avoid interference. If we divide the city into, for example, 50 cells, we can now have 10X50 = 500 simultaneous users in the same city instead of 30. Therefore, by adding cells of smaller dimensions (specified by lower transmission power) we can increase the number of available channels until we reach a limit imposed by the interference.

The example above shows that clever use of existing resources can dramatically increase efficiency.

Figure 2: A special vehicle for spectrum monitoring in Montevideo, UruguayFigure 2: A special vehicle for spectrum monitoring in Montevideo, Uruguay

Although the main use of spectrum is for communication purposes, there are also other uses such as cooking food in microwave ovens, medical applications, garage door openers and so on. Some frequency bands are allocated for these purposes in what is known as the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) bands. This spectrum usage is normally for short distance applications.

A breakthrough occurred in 1985 when the Federal Commission of Communications (FCC), the agency that oversees the spectrum in the U.S., allowed use of this spectrum for communications applications, provided that the transmission power was kept to a very low level to minimize interference. People could freely use these “unlicensed” bands without applying for a license, provided that the equipment used had been certified by an authorized laboratory that ensured compliance with interference mitigation measures. It is a mistake to imagine that unlicensed spectrum is a complete free-for-all, that it is unregulated. It is precisely the detailed technical regulation of unlicensed devices that makes it possible for them to co-exist together. Probably most significant factor in this respect is the fact that unlicensed devices are regulated to have comparatively low power outputs to limit their ability to interfere with each other.

As the ISM or unlicensed bands were opened to data communication, several manufactures began taking advantage of this opportunity to offer equipment that could communicate among computers without the need for cables. Wireless data networks covering significant geographic areas were built.

Note that open spectrum used in unlicensed bands cannot prevent interference issues, especially in very crowded areas. Nevertheless, open spectrum has proven a success for short distance applications in cities and for long distance applications as well in rural areas.

It is therefore advisable to investigate new forms of spectrum allocation, taking into consideration the needs of many stakeholders and strike a balance among them. Recent advances in technology make a dynamic spectrum allocation mechanism a feasible alternative.
As an analogy, the current method of spectrum allocation is similar to a railway system, the railroads can be idle a considerable amount of time. The dynamic spectrum allocation is akin to the highway system that can be used at all times by different users.

The turning point, however, came in 1997 when the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) approved the 802.11 Standard, the basis of what is now known as WiFi. The existence of a standard that guaranteed the interoperability of equipment produced by different manufacturers fuelled an impressive growth of the market, which in turn drove competition and led to a dramatic decrease in the cost of devices. In particular, the portion of the ISM band between 2400 and 2483 MHz is currently available in most of the world without need for a license and is widely used by laptops, tablets, smart phones and even photographic cameras.

The role that unlicensed spectrum played in the enormous success of WiFi high speed Internet access cannot be overstated. Airports, hotels and cafes all over the world offer WiFi Internet access on their premises, and low cost wireless community networks have been built both in rural areas and in cities covering considerable geographic areas – all thanks to the availability of unlicensed spectrum.

Mobile phone operators, which have to pay dearly for spectrum licenses, were initially quite hostile to this apparently unfair competition. But with rocketing data usages thanks to a burgeoning smartphone industry, they soon realized that off-loading the traffic to WiFi was in their best interest, because it relieved the traffic in their distribution network (known as backhaul). Now mobile phone operators encourage their customers to use WiFi wherever it is available and to use the more expensive cellular service only when out of range of any WiFi Access Point.

This demonstrates the value of unlicensed spectrum even to traditional telecommunications operators who often have lobbied against it.

The two most popular means of granting access to licensed spectrum bands are through spectrum auctions and through so-called “beauty contests.”

The auction method is straightforward: interested parties bid for a given spectrum band; whoever commits the higher sum gets the right to use the frequencies. In theory this method guarantees that the adjudication will be transparent but in practice, transparency has often been circumvented. There have been instances where powerful commercial interests have acquired frequencies only to avoid their used by competition. As a result, highly valuable spectrum was not used. There is also temptation on the part of the government to use this method as a means of revenue generation as opposed to a mechanism for seeking the optimum value of a spectrum band. This is not necessarily a bad thing in itself but arguably counterproductive if the policy goal is increasing access and stimulating competition. As an example, in 2000 auctions in several European countries allocated 3G spectrum auction for mobile phones that resulted in income of 100 billion (100 000 000 000) euros to the government coffers. The massive price paid by operators for this spectrum resulted in reduced resources and increased delays in roll-out.

The “beauty contest” method requires interested parties to submit proposals on how they intend to use the spectrum. A committee of the spectrum regulating agency then decides which of the proposals better serves public goals. This method relies on the objectivity, independence, technical proficiency and honesty of the members of the deciding committee, which are not always guaranteed.
In many countries there are rules for spectrum adjudication that call for relinquishing spectrum bands that have been acquired but are not being used. Enforcement, however, is often lacking due to strong economic interests.

Figure 3: The “spectrum Police” at work in JakartaFigure 3: The “spectrum Police” at work in Jakarta

The importance of spectrum as a communications enabler cannot be overstated. Television and radio broadcasting have a strong influence in shaping public perceptions on any issue, and have been used overtly for political propaganda. It has been said, for example, that Kennedy’s election as president of the U.S. was due mainly to his television campaign. During the cold war, The Voice of America, Moscow Radio and Radio Havana Cuba were very effective ways to sway a global audience.

More recent examples include the influence of CNN and Al Jazeera in shaping public interpretation of current events.

At a national level, the role of radio and television in steering public opinion is often quite overt. Berlusconi’s ascent to power in Italy was made possible by his control of commercial television. It is therefore not surprising that governments everywhere exert a strong control of spectrum access and have shut down broadcasting stations that aired “inconvenient” viewpoints on allegedly technical or legal grounds.

Spectrum used for two-way communication, including mobile and internet technologies, has also been subject to government interventions, especially in cases of political unrest.

Economic interests also play a vital role in broadcasting. Concentration of broadcast media ownership has had demonstrable negative impact on freedom of expression and unbiased reporting whether that concentration was in government or private sector ownership. The increasing economic value of communication spectrum whether in broadcast or telecommunications increases the likelihood of influence.

We can conclude that the electromagnetic spectrum is a natural resource whose usefulness is heavily conditioned by technological, economic and political factors.

As the number of tablets and smart phones grows, telecom operators vie for access to new frequency bands, but the traditional methods of adjudicating the spectrum are facing limitations.

Keep in mind that the spectrum is used for radio and television broadcasts, for satellite communications, for airplane traffic control, for geolocation (Global Positioning Systems – GPS), as well as for military, police and other governmental purposes. Traditionally, the demand for additional spectrum has been met due to the advances in electronics that have permitted the use of higher frequencies at an affordable cost. Higher frequencies are well suited for high speed transmissions, but they have a limited range and are highly attenuated by walls and other obstacles as well as by rain.

This is exemplified by comparing the coverage of an AM radio broadcasting station to that of an FM station: the great range of the AM station is due to its use of lower frequencies. On the other hand, FM stations can make use of higher bandwidths and as consequence can offer greater audio quality at the expense of a more limited range.

Accordingly, TV broadcasting frequencies are coveted by cellular telephone providers: using lower frequencies means they will need fewer base stations, with corresponding savings in deployment, operation and maintenance. This is why these frequencies are commonly referred as “beach front property”.

The greatest impact of advanced modulation and coding methods for more efficient spectrum use has been the availability of more bits/s per Hz of bandwidth. This advance was made economically possible by great strides in integrated circuit manufacture.

According to calculations performed in 1948 by Claude Shannon, the father of modern telecommunications, a typical telephone line can, in theory, carry up 30 Kbit/s. But this rate was achieved only in the 1990s with the invention of integrated circuits that could implement the required techniques.

Figure 4: An example of TV channels adjudication in two cities that are close enough in proximity such that transmissions from one can reach the other. White spaces are kept fallow to minimize interferenceFigure 4: An example of TV channels adjudication in two cities that are close enough in proximity such that transmissions from one can reach the other. White spaces are kept fallow to minimize interference In traditional analogue TV broadcasting, adjacent channels cannot be used at the same time, because the signal from one channel will “spill” over the two adjacent channels and cause interference. This is similar to the median used in freeways to separate the two directions of traffic in order to prevent collisions. A “white space” must be left between two contiguous analogue TV channels to prevent interference. Digital TV broadcasting is much more efficient in spectrum use, and several digital TV channels can be accommodated in the same frequency band formerly used by a single analogue channel without “spillover” in adjacent channels. In places where analogue TV is replaced by digital TV a “digital dividend” is being harvested. The concept of white spaces can be applied to three different ranges of frequency: a) Spectrum that has been assigned to TV broadcasting but it is not currently being used. This applies particularly to developing countries, in which there has been no economic incentive for broadcasters to use every available TV channel. b) Spectrum that historically had to be left unused in between two adjacent analogue TV channels to prevent interference. c) The spectrum that has been reclaimed (“refarmed”) in the transition to digital terrestrial TV. This currently applies to developed countries, but will soon apply to developing countries as well. The last 20 years has seen tremendous growth in demand for spectrum for mobile communication services, in which data services are consuming much more bandwidth than voice and the growing use of video is presenting an additional challenge. Not surprisingly, telecom operators everywhere are vying for a portion of these “white spaces”. Broadcasters, on the other hand, are very reluctant to cede any spectrum to direct competitors.

Steve Song, CEO, Village Telco talks about what TV White Spaces are; what they enable; how different operators might use them; and why they are important for Africa. He concludes by talking about the new investor in his company Village Telco and what its future plans are.

Although all available spectrum is currently allocated in developed countries, many independent studies have found that the total amount of spectrum in use at any one time in any one place is a tiny fraction of the total. This is due to the way spectrum was originally allocated and to the fact that spectrum is often used intermittently; for instance some TV broadcasting stations do not transmit 24 hours a day.
As a consequence, a radically new way to use spectrum has been suggested. Instead of leasing spectrum to a given organization on an exclusive basis, a new dynamic spectrum management paradigm proposes to use whatever spectrum is available in a certain place at a certain time and switch to another frequency whenever interference is detected in a given band.

Of course to implement dynamic spectrum access requires new technologies and new legislation and many vested interests are fighting this, alleging possible interference. The key issue is how to determine when a particular spectrum band is really being used in a particular geographic region and how to move quickly to a new frequency band when an existing user with higher priority is detected. Thus in the VHF and UHF bands, television broadcasters transmitting at high power in specific frequencies and regions would have first priority. They are the primary license-holders in the spectrum. TVWS broadband devices would have a secondary priority and would be obliged to ensure that they do not interfere with the primary license holder.

The technology to accomplish this feat has been demonstrated and implemented in the new IEEE802.22 standard recently approved, as well as in other standards currently being considered.

Stimulated by the impressive success of WiFi (due mostly to the use of unlicensed – or open spectrum), the IEEE created a working group to address the requirements of a Wireless Regional Area Network. The challenge was to develop a technology suitable for long distance transmission that could be deployed in different countries (each with quite different spectrum allocations). The IEEE focused on spectrum currently allocated to TV broadcasting which spans approximately 50 to 800 MHz This range of spectrum is not currently used in its entirety all the time, so there are “white spaces”, fallow regions that can be re-used for bidirectional communications. In rural areas all over the world, but specially in developing countries, large portions of spectrum are currently under-utilized.

The IEEE802.22 standard is likely to enable dynamic spectrum access in a similar manner that the IEEE802.11 (WiFi) standard did to open spectrum. Of course not all spectrum can be liberated at once; a gradual process is required as the many technical, legal, economic and political hurdles are solved. There is no doubt, however, that IEEE802.22 paves the way to the future of spectrum allocation.

To assess the availability of a given frequency channel at a given time, two methods are being considered: channel sensing and a database of primary users in a given geographic location at a given time.

Channel sensing means that before using a channel, the base stations will listen to the channel first to determine whether it is already in use. If in use, the base station will try another channel and repeat this procedure until a free channel is found. The device will continue to sense at regular intervals to account for the possibility of stations coming alive at any time.

Although this method should be sufficient to detect and avoid spectrum interference, current spectrum holders have successfully lobbied the regulators to force implementation of the second method, which is much more complicated and imposes additional costs in consumer equipment.

The second method establishes an “off limit” zone in a given channel by building a database of the existing transmission stations, including their position and respective coverage area. A new station wishing to transmit must first determine its exact position (so it must have a GPS receiver or other means to find out the geographic location) and then interrogate the database to ascertain that its present location is not in the forbidden zone of the channel it is attempting to use. To interrogate the database, it must have Internet access by some other means (ADSL – Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Loop -, Cable, Satellite, or Cellular), besides the 802.22 radio (which cannot be used until the channel is confirmed as available). This adds an additional burden to the station hardware and translates into additional cost.

The FCC has been promoting the building of a database of registered users of TVWS spectrum and have authorized 10 different private enterprises to build, operate and maintain such repositories. Field trials of TVWS technology are now being conducted in the U.S. and elsewhere.

In the U.K., the telecommunications regulator, OFCOM, is conducting TVWS trials. OFCOM is currently using the database method.

Although IEEE802.22 has received the most publicity, several competing standards to leverage TV white spaces for two-way communication services are currently being explored. These include:

- IEEE802.11af – this amendment builds on the enormous success of IEEE802.11 by adapting the same technology to the frequency bands allocated to TV transmission. This adaptation relieves spectrum crowding in the 2.4 GHz band and offers greater range due to use of lower transmission frequencies. A IEEE802.11 working group is discussing details.

- IEEE802.16h – This amendment of the 802.16 standard was ratified in 2010 and describes the mechanism for implementing the protocol in uncoordinated operation, licensed or license-exempt applications. Although most deployments have been in the 5 GHz band, it can also be applied to the TV bands frequencies and can profit from the significant deployments of WiMAX (Wireless Microwave Access) systems in many countries.

Figure 5: Region served with voice and data services by COTECAL, in Calafate and El Chalten, ArgentinaFigure 5: Region served with voice and data services by COTECAL, in Calafate and El Chalten, Argentina

Spectrum allocated to broadcast television is only partially used. In particular, in developing countries. This presents a magnificent opportunity to introduce wireless data networking services in channels that are not currently in use, and to start reaping the benefits of TV white spaces in a more benign environment, where the kind of spectrum sensing and agile frequency changing required to share the crowded spectrum in wealthy countries may not be necessary.

Successful deployment of Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) mobile systems in the 450 MHz band (in the middle of TV allocated frequencies) has demonstrated the value of lower frequencies for two-way data communications, e.g. in rural areas such as the Argentinean state of Patagonia, which is currently served by “Cooperativa Telefónica de Calafate-COTECAL”. COTECAL offering voice and data services to customers at distances up to 50 km from the Base Station, in the beautiful area shown in the figure.

There is an opportunity for stakeholders to lobby for the introduction of TVWS-based solutions while the issues of the digital transition are considered, to ensure that commercial interests do not prevail over the interests of society at large.

Activists should emphasize the need for transparency in the frequencies allocation process. In particular, they should demand accountability within government administrations and among current spectrum holders such that spectrum use in each region of their countries is made transparent.

Figure 6: Participants from Albania, Nepal, Malawi and Italy testing an antenna with the RF Explorer Spectrum Analyzer in Trieste, February 2012Figure 6: Participants from Albania, Nepal, Malawi and Italy testing an antenna with the RF Explorer Spectrum Analyzer in Trieste, February 2012

Monitoring spectrum requires expensive instruments with a steep learning curve. However, a recently available, affordable and easy-to-use device analyzes the frequency band between 240 MHz and 960 MHz, which encompasses the higher part of the TV band.

Details of this open hardware based RF Explorer Spectrum Analyzer for the upper TV band are at:

Figure 6 shows the RF Explorer for the 2.4 GHz band testing an antenna built by participants of the 2012 ICTP Wireless training workshop in Trieste, Italy.

This low cost instrument paves the way for a wide involvement of people in the measurement of the real spectrum usage on their own country which hopefully can lead to a better spectrum management.

What does ‘ICTs and environmental sustainability’ mean?

The term ‘ICTs and environmental sustainability’ is taken by APC to be a broad and inclusive definition. It involves the environmentally sound and sustainable management of ICTs, including their production, use, re-use and disposal, as well as the use of ICTs to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The term is also used to refer more generally to using ICTs to support environmental causes, or as tools to assist in protecting and preserving the environment.

Given the growing importance of environmental sustainability in social and economic development, much global attention has been given to the role of information and communications technologies (ICTs), both as tools to address sustainability imbalances and as the source of environmental challenges in themselves. Over the last 10 years several prominent projects and multi-stakeholder networks have unfolded in the areas of ICTs and climate change and e-waste, including but certainly not limited to important work by the Swiss government, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and Manchester University.

What are climate change adaptation and mitigation?

There are two main categories of human responses to climate change: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation involves actions intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including emissions trading schemes and reforestation programs. Adaptation involves action intended to reduce the negative effects of climate change on human and natural systems. Adaptation has been undertaken by a variety of actors at various scales, and could include measures such as the establishment of early warning systems, improvement of risk management, alteration of farming practices and crop use, improvement of water use efficiency and building new water reservoirs.

Information and communication technology (ICT) is a vital for the development early warning systems, and can provide up-to-date weather and water quality/supply data. Knowledge portals, such as InfoAndina in Peru can provide information and tools for communities to better conserve water and adapt farming practices to changing climatic conditions.

Defined as the ability of a system to withstand, recover and change in the face of an external disturbance (such as acute or chronic climate change), resilience constitutes an important property of livelihood systems which, through a set of seven dynamic sub-properties (robustness, scale, redundancy, rapidity, flexibility, self-organisation and learning) can enhance adaptive capacity. E-resilience is “a property of livelihood systems by which ICTs interact with a set of resilience sub-properties, enabling the system to adapt to the effects of climate change.”

For an organization to be carbon-neutral, all of its carbon emissions must be offset in some way. This offset can be achieved through an emission trading scheme, carbon capture, or through other means, such as the Clean Development Mechanism.

In theory, a carbon footprint is a measure of the entire green house gas emission of a particular entity (be it a corporation, and organization or an individual). Data such as this would take into account things such as transportation, production, services and others. Most commonly, carbon dioxide and methane alone are taken into account for the sake of simplicity. Once an entity’s carbon footprint has been ascertained, steps may be taken to reduce its size, or to offset it in some way.

A carbon sink is any formation, natural or otherwise, that absorbs more carbon than it releases. Forests are a naturally occurring example of a carbon sink, due to the carbon consumed during photosynthesis. A large, buried tank would be an example of a synthetic carbon sink.

What is e-waste?

E-waste, or electronic waste is a term used to describe old, end-of-life or discarded appliances using electricity. It includes computers, consumer electronics, fridges, etc which have been disposed of by their original users. E-waste contains both valuable and hazardous materials which require special handling and recycling methods.

E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams, growing at three times the rate of municipal waste globally. The ICT industry is expected to generate 53 million tonnes of e-waste by 2012. Moreover, developed countries routinely export their e-waste to developing countries, often in violation of international law. Greenpeace estimates that 50-80% of e-waste that is collected for recycling is exported to developing countries in Asia and Africa. With the amount of e-waste being produced increasing by as much as 500% over the next decade in some countries, sustainable management is clearly a priority.

Conflict minerals are minerals mined in areas where there is armed conflict or human rights abuse, with profits often funding ongoing conflict. For example, coltan is a mineral that is mined for use in consumer electronics, such as mobile phones, DVD players, video game systems, and computers. It has been cited as a source of financing for military conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Bromimated flame retardants (BFRs) are common in most household appliances and furniture. They have been in use since the 1970s, and are most abundant in consumer electronics. Some of the more cost-effective varieties have been shown to be hazardous to the health of humans and animals. The chemicals leech out of articles they have been applied to over the product’s lifetime, as well as while the product is being recycled, or sitting in a landfill. The chemicals find their way into water supplies and bioaccumulation occurs.

Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) were commonly used in television and computer displays, prior to the prevalence of plasma and LCD screens. CRT displays are a large contributor to e-waste, as they are exceedingly difficult to recycle. The Environmental Protection Agency in the United States considers CRTs to be hazardous waste (unless recycled), due to the large amount of lead and phosphors used in their construction (in addition a high level of brominated fire retardant). If they are not disposed of or recycled properly, these hazardous chemicals can easily be released into the environment.

Planned obsolescence is a marketing strategy, often used by producers of electronic devices. The strategy entails designing a product in such a way as to have a limited life-span (limited either by the device being rendered obsolete by a new model, or by it ceasing to function). This is done with the intent to compel the consumer to buy the new model, or replace the non-functioning one. This marketing strategy has obvious consequences for the environment, as it leads to the production of an inordinate amount e-waste.

Computer refurbishing is generally a better strategy for reducing e-waste when compared to computer recycling. In the case of refurbishing, computers are used for their component parts, as opposed to recycling, which commonly crushes computers to separate the various materials inside. The latter has a far greater potential for releasing any toxins present in the electronic devices, and allowing them to leach into the environment, or be inhaled by the recyclers themselves.

Take-back laws are designed to reduce the amount of e-waste by requiring producers to bear some of the cost and responsibility for safely disposing of electronic devices at the end of their life-spans. In addition to this primary goal, the laws also encourage better product design (for products that are easier to recycle), more efficient means of recycling, and appropriate product pricing (one that takes disposal costs into account).

With the rising concern about climate change there is an increasing focus on the amount of electricity that ICTs consume. The more gadgets we have, especially mobile devices that require charging, the greater the demand for electricity. At present, around the globe, the fuel being used to meet much of the demand for new electricity generation is the worst from the point of view of carbon emissions: coal. However, it’s not the everyday use of ICTs that’s driving their electricity demand.

Though people might focus on the direct use of electricity by devices – because that’s the part of the system they can “see” – in terms of the overall life cycle of ICT devices, more energy will have been used during their production. In fact, as the direct energy use of electrical goods reduces, so the energy consumed in production becomes more significant19. For example, the memory chip in a laptop computer can take more energy to produce than the laptop itself will consume over its three-year service life. This is another reasons why extending the life cycle of ICTs is important for environmental sustainability.

What are the main international policy spaces for environmental sustainability?

There are a number of policies, processes and initiatives working on issues relating to environmental sustainability at the global level. These include the UNFCC, which hosts the Conference of Parties (COP), the FAO, the UNDP, UNESCO, the Basel Convention, the UNDP,and UNEP, which together with the World Meteorological Organization, founded the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In June 2012, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also referred to as Rio+20, will be held, with key themes of ‘the green economy’ and developing an ‘institutional framework for sustainable development’.

A list of international environmental agreements can be found here.

The UNFCC is an international environmental treaty produced at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) also known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio, 1992.

Since the UNFCCC entered into force, the parties have been meeting annually in Conferences of the Parties (COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change, and beginning in the mid-1990s, to negotiate the Kyoto Protocol to establish legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The Green Climate Fund is an initiative intended to aid developing nations deal with climate change. The Fund intends to gather pledges from developed countries to provide money for developing countries dealing with the costs of climate change. Sources of financing are still under discussion and private entities may be included as contributors.

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) is an initiative that seeks to reduce GHG emissions. The guideline aims at reductions through protection of forested areas from deforestation (the permanent removal of trees) and forest degradation (other damage done to forested areas). Although GHG emissions are the primary goal, REDD+ also encourages protection of biodiversity, and poverty alleviation.

Essentially, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allows developed countries to offset their carbon emissions by funding projects that would reduce emissions in developing countries. In this way, developing countries may develop more sustainably, while developed countries meet their emission targets. Since its inception, the CDM has been criticized for its overall efficiency, as well as for funding unsustainable and sometimes fraudulent activity. There have also been concerns over the exclusion of forest conservation, which led to the development of REDD+.

Carbon credits are part of the carbon market, traded using emissions trading schemes (ETS). The intention is to allow market forces to guide corporate entities to actions that would reduce their emissions, as opposed to imposing regulation.

Internet rights are human rights

APC takes the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) as a starting point for our work on human rights. From there we include other global and regional treaties which may be relevant when working on specific issues.

The main focus of Connect your rights! Internet rights are human rights is on the right to freedom of expression and association. However, all rights are interconnected and no specific rights are more important than any others. All human rights depend on each other to be fully realised.

What is the Internet Rights Monitor?

The Internet Rights Monitor is broken up into three sections:

The dynamic section, “Monitoring internet rights worldwide”, is the middle column on the Connect your rights site and is regularly updated with headlines around internet rights issues.

The more static sections, which includes the FAQ section and the Human Rights Mechanisms section, appear as separate tabs in the navigation bar.

The FAQ section explains what we mean by internet rights, and how they correspond to human rights. It also includes APC’s position on frequently asked questions, such as the role of intermediaries. This will be updated periodically to reflect APC’s position on new issues as they arise.

The Human Rights Mechanisms section is the complex legal jargon, intended to act as a kind of glossary to which the FAQ section can link to and refer. This section will only be updated in the event of major changes to the human rights or internet rights landscape, and is intended to act as a resource for legal-minded human rights defenders.

What are internet rights?

APC takes the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as a starting point for our work.  From there we include other global and regional treaties which may be relevant when working on specific issues.

While much of our work focuses on freedom of expression and association, all rights are interconnected and none are more important than others. All human rights depend on each other to be fully realised.

Freedom of opinion and expression

Everyone has the right to free speech online, whether through blogs, chat, e-mail or mobile phones. Individuals must be able to express opinions and ideas, and share information freely when using the internet, without threat of harassment or censorship.

The right to freedom of expression and opinion can be found in nearly all human rights treaties. Of particularly significance are:

UDHR article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers


ICCPR article 19

Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

a. For respect of the rights or reputations of others;

b. For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

The right to freedom of opinion and expression in an internet context is described well by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Frank La Rue, in his annual report released June 2011, including how limitations to freedom of opinion and expression may apply online:

The right to freedom of opinion and expression is as much a fundamental right on its own accord as it is an “enabler” of other rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to education and the right to take part in cultural life and to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, as well as civil and political rights, such as the rights to freedom of association and assembly. Thus, by acting as a catalyst for individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Internet also facilitates the realization of a range of other human rights.

The vast potential and benefits of the Internet are rooted in its unique characteristics, such as its speed, worldwide reach and relative anonymity. At the same time, these distinctive features of the Internet that enable individuals to disseminate information in “real time” and to mobilize people has also created fear amongst Governments and the powerful. This has led to increased restrictions on the Internet through the use of increasingly sophisticated technologies to block content, monitor and identify activists and critics, criminalization of legitimate expression, and adoption of restrictive legislation to justify such measures. In this regard, the Special Rapporteur also emphasizes that the existing international human rights standards, in particular article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, remain pertinent in determining the types of restrictions that are in breach of States’ obligations to guarantee the right to freedom of expression.

As set out in article 19, paragraph 3, of the Covenant, there are certain exceptional types of expression which may be legitimately restricted under international human rights law, essentially to safeguard the rights of others. This issue has been examined in the previous annual report of the Special Rapporteur. However, the Special Rapporteur deems it appropriate to reiterate that any limitation to the right to freedom of expression must pass the following three-part, cumulative test:

a. It must be provided by law, which is clear and accessible to everyone (principles of predictability and transparency); and
b. It must pursue one of the purposes set out in article 19, paragraph 3, of the Covenant, namely (i) to protect the rights or reputations of others, or (ii) to protect national security or of public order, or of public health or morals (principle of legitimacy); and
c. It must be proven as necessary and the least restrictive means required to
achieve the purported aim (principles of necessity and proportionality).

Moreover, any legislation restricting the right to freedom of expression must be applied by a body which is independent of any political, commercial, or other unwarranted influences in a manner that is neither arbitrary nor discriminatory, and with adequate safeguards against abuse, including the possibility of challenge and remedy against its abusive application.

As such, legitimate types of information which may be restricted include child pornography (to protect the rights of children), hate speech (to protect the rights of affected communities), defamation (to protect the rights and reputation of others against unwarranted attacks), direct and public incitement to commit genocide (to protect the rights of others), and advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence (to protect the rights of others, such as the right to life).

However, in many instances, States restrict, control, manipulate and censor content disseminated via the Internet without any legal basis, or on the basis of broad and ambiguous laws, without justifying the purpose of such actions; and/or in a manner that is clearly unnecessary and/or disproportionate to achieving the intended aim, as explored in the following sections. Such actions are clearly incompatible with States’ obligations under international human rights law, and often create a broader “chilling effect” on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

In addition, the Special Rapporteur emphasizes that due to the unique characteristics of the Internet, regulations or restrictions which may be deemed legitimate and proportionate for traditional media are often not so with regard to the Internet. For example, in cases of defamation of individuals’ reputation, given the ability of the individual concerned to exercise his/her right of reply instantly to restore the harm caused, the types of sanctions that are applied to offline defamation may be unnecessary or disproportionate. Similarly, while the protection of children from inappropriate content may constitute a legitimate aim, the availability of software filters that parents and school authorities can use to control access to certain content renders action by the Government such as blocking less necessary, and difficult to justify. Furthermore, unlike the broadcasting sector, for which registration or licensing has been necessary to allow States to distribute limited frequencies, such requirements cannot be justified in the case of the Internet, as it can accommodate an unlimited number of points of entry and an essentially unlimited number of users.”

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, A/HRC/17/27,

Freedom of peaceful assembly and association

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. In practice, this means having affordable access to social networking sites, forums or chatrooms, undue censorship or blocking of these spaces is a violation of our human rights.

UDHR article 20

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

ICCPR article 21

The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

ICCPR article 22

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on members of the armed forces and of the police in their exercise of this right.

Nothing in this article shall authorize States Parties to the International Labour Organisation Convention of 1948 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize to take legislative measures which would prejudice, or to apply the law in such a manner as to prejudice, the guarantees provided for in that Convention.

The right to freedom of association is the right for individuals to gather with any other individual or group to promote, pursue or defend a common interest. Freedom of peaceful assembly generally refers to the right to participate in political gatherings and demonstrations, while freedom of association generally refers to the right to be part of an organisation or political party. This also serves as an important protection for unions and other labour organisations.

While the internet has enabled human rights defenders to gather easier, share knowledge more efficiently and report news faster, it has also exposed these same groups to surveillance by authoritarian states. Human rights defenders on the internet require strong protections for the right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.

However, recent studies have shown that authoritarian states are less concerned with restricting unwanted association, but prefer instead to harass individual human rights defenders. This is typically done through the police or intelligence agencies, and is made possible by monitoring the online activities of human rights organisations.

Closely related to ensuring the right to freedom of association is anonymity and circumvention tools. This is especially important for suppressed groups in authoritarian societies.


We each have the right to live private lives, and this privacy is integral to our well-being and security. Neither states nor private entities should intrude on this right, whether through warrant-less surveillance or requiring undue personal information for the use of services. Protection of our privacy also includes the right to use anonymity and encryption software.

UNDHR article 12

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

ICCPR article 17

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.

Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

As governments all over the world have begun to monitor the online activities of their citizens, the right to privacy has become increasingly important. The ease with which governments can now watch large numbers of people with relatively few resources means that the privacy, and safety, of human rights defenders is at risk.

Privacy and data protection issues are often complex, and it can be difficult to find a common standard. We refer to Privacy International and their work on privacy for further reading, particularly their research on Privacy as a political right.

Privacy rights are closely related to the ability to remain anonymous on the internet. The TOR project offers a popular anonymity service and describes several important privacy issues.

The right to development

The right to development affirms that we are all entitled to pursue the realisation of a reasonable standard of living. This includes group rights for self-determination.

Declaration on the Right to Development article 1:

The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.

The human right to development also implies the full realization of the right of peoples to self- determination, which includes, subject to the relevant provisions of both International Covenants on Human Rights, the exercise of their inalienable right to full sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources.

Women's rights

By virtue of the unique challenges and dangers facing women in many parts of the world, women as a group are entitled to certain rights. This includes our right to live free of discrimination or exclusion, and an affirmation of our right to political, economic, and social participation.

While the UDHR calls for equal rights for men and women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW from 1981 is considered the main treaty regarding women’s rights.

CEDAW article 1

For the purposes of the present Convention, the term “discrimination against women” shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.

CEDAW article 2

States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women and, to this end, undertake:

a. To embody the principle of the equality of men and women in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation if not yet incorporated therein and to ensure, through law and other appropriatemeans, the practical realization of this principle;

b. To adopt appropriate legislative and other measures, including sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all discrimination against women;

c. To establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men and to ensure through competent national tribunals and other public institutions the effective protection of women against any act of discrimination;

d. To refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation;

e. To take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise;

f. To take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women;

g. To repeal all national penal provisions which constitute discrimination against women.

The rights of human rights defenders

Human rights defenders are at higher risk due to the nature of their work. As such, states are obligated not to interfere with their work or their ability to coordinate internationally.

What are the burning internet rights issues?

Human rights are universal and apply to everyone everywhere, offline and online. However, the internet and its global decentralised infrastructure creates a number of unique situations where these rights need to be specifically addressed and understood. In this section a few of these issues are outlined together with APC’s position.

What is a Human Rights Council expert panel?

A group of people chosen to consider a particular subject and advise the Human Rights Council. The HRC has these for all sorts of issues from country specific investigations (e.g about Syria or Sri Lanka) to topical issues like freedom of peaceful assembly, which was the focus of the 18th session.

First up, we rallied support for the Panel by making joint statements and writing to governments and encouraging other NGOs to support it as well.

Now that the HRC has voted to go ahead with a panel, we will try to work closely with the Swedish government on the terms of reference, to suggest experts, share our research and mobilise engagement as part of the Connect Your Rights! Campaign. If all goes well, we would look to follow up the Panel’s recommendations in the UPR processes that we are supporting in India, Brazil, South Africa and the Philippines which will go before the HRC in June 2012.

Yes! The panel outcomes may be weak if the “experts” are not of high quality or there is weak or ill-informed engagement on the issues, or the sponsoring State does not co-ordinate the process well. Because there is no process for a resolution to be voted on at the end of the panel, there is a risk that discussion will remain very diplomatic, that it may water down the substance of the issues, and that it still gives the possibility for opponents to disrupt debate or ensure there are no concrete outcomes.

There is no set procedure for Panels. Generally, it is up to the leading sponsor State to coordinate the identification of panelists and the general concept note of the meeting. A panel consists of a 3 hour formal UN debate – usually introduced by 4-5 experts in the field and high level personalities. States and some NGOs respond to that with their political statements. At the end the Panel reports to the Council, hopefully with some recommended actions. This might happen at the 19th session of the HRC in March 2012.

A Panel is often seen as the softest, risk-free step that the Council can take on an issue. Sometimes these kinds of panels are criticized because of that – too weak an option, not really doing anything, delay tactic etc. On the other hand it is a good entry point for a new issue and it’s safe in the sense that there is no automatic follow up.
However, it’s useful for bringing a new agenda forward or consolidating an issue without negotiating a resolution, and without risking creating divisions around a bad resolution For this reason I think it is a really good option for the internet rights are human rights work. If it goes badly, the outcome won’t be strategically damaging and it will give us a chance to see how states will engage.

APC will be issuing statements and making recommendations throughout the process. You can help us through endorsements or by signing online petitions.

Check the CYR homepage for updates and the latest news on the campaign and the panel process.

The practice of treating all content, information and users on the internet equally is generally referred to as Network Neutrality. Network Neutrality has become an important issue in the last few years as some ISP’s have attempted to “shape” internet connections by favouring certain types of content over others. Examples include slowing down large downloads or offering VOIP only to those paying to use that specific service.

Chile, and more recently the Netherlands have recently passed legislation defending the principle of network neutrality.

A recent controversy involving network neutrality was the deal between Google and Verizon in 2010. This deal stated that prohibitions against ISPs steering traffic based on users or content excluded wireless providers. In essence, it allows for wireless ISPs to mange traffic on their network in any way they choose.

Affordable, universal access to the internet is far from a reality. While some countries have enacted legislation which guarantees access, others are more hesitant, acknowledging the internet’s importance for development but wary of considering it a basic right.

Access to the internet is a multifaceted issue which goes beyond access to the physical infrastructure. However, access to the physical infrastructure is necessary for internet access, and the internet’s backbone is constantly developing. Please click here to see current status of undersea cables, which are very important for enabling access in the developing world.

APC believes that the internet, with all its potential for enabling democracy, development and knowledge-sharing, should be seen as a public good. As such, governments should take steps to enable affordable access for all citizens. As described in the freedom of expression section we see universal internet access as a critical building block for exercising the rights to freedom of expression and association.

APC calls upon states, particularly developing states, to adopt and implement unversal internet access programmes in their endeavor to promote development in urban as well as rural areas. Meanwhile, APC calls upon developed states to facilitate such programmes by developing an inclusive internet infrastructure with a focus on bridging the digital divide.

However, it is important to understand that access to the internet is a multi-faceted concept, including access to the internet in local languages, access for disabled persons and the ability for everyone, including local minorities, to develop and share their own content.

Internet intermediaries are the private corporations providing services on the internet through hosting, transmitting, giving access to and indexing internet content. Examples of intermediaries are internet service providers, web site hosts, search engines and social network providers.

In recent years states have begun relying on these intermediaries to conduct filtering of online content and monitoring of users’ activities. By holding intermediaries liable for third party content, such as defamation or media piracy, states encourage them to censor all but the most mainstream content. The result is typically excessive filtering and a chilling effect on free speech.

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