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Carlos Afonso of APC’s member organisation in Brazil, Núcleo de Pesquisas, Estudos e Formação (Nupef), delivers a compelling opening speech at the 16th session of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) in Geneva, 3-7 June 2013.

“Ambassador Miguel Palomino de la Gala, Chair of the CSTD; Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD; Dr. Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the ITU, in the name of whom I wish to salute all present authorities; ladies and gentlemen:

I have been assigned the honorable task of speaking in the opening ceremony of this Sixteenth Session of the UN CSTD as a member of a small civil society organization, committed to proactively contribute to the advance of ICTs for human development in my country.

I am also one of the founding members of a relevant pluralist initiative in Internet governance in Brazil, created in 1995, when this concept was not yet in our minds, the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee — a joint initiative of government, academia, industry and NGOs. More than just a names and numbers assignment organization for Brazil’s “.br” top domain name, the Steering Committee has the mission to oversee or advise on a broad range of issues related to the development and deployment of the Internet in our country.

Since 2003, when a multistakeholder model of coordination was consolidated, a majority of its 21 members is elected every three years by civil society, the private sector, and the technical community. Our Steering Committee has been a reference for several countries in organizing multistakeholder processes of Internet governance.

In 2009 the Steering Committee managed to reach consensus around its 10 Principles for the Governance and Use of the Internet in Brazil. Its publication has since been used as a reference in many forums around the world, and was the starting point of a challenging proposal: a new bill of law setting a Framework of Civil Rights for the Internet in Brazil, known in Portuguese as the “Marco Civil da Internet”. Marco Civil was elaborated during a long, 3-year process of open, highly participatory consultations with all sectors, until a final version of the bill of law was submitted to Congress last year.

We are now struggling to preserve the essential tenets of Marco Civil as it is processed through Congress, against the heavy lobby of the telecommunications industry (which strongly opposes net neutrality) and the main media companies (which insist on facilities for take down of content without due process of law, as well as imposing undue accountability on intermediaries).

In short, these are more or less the same disputes we see in most countries, including the largest developed democracies. A strong indication of these and other challenges to a free and open Internet was the recent appeal, four days ago, of Neelie Kroes, the Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, which, along with the defense of an European single market for telecommunications, stresses the fundamental importance of guaranteeing net neutrality, among other fundamental rights.

As the ITU-Unesco broadband commission stated in its 2012 report, “to date, the rapid, substantial growth in broadband has not translated into significant increases in Internet access in least developed countries (LDCs), where only 6 per cent of inhabitants had access as of 2011. This [percentage] is expected to more than double by 2015, but by then, the absolute gap with higher income countries is likely to grow even larger.” And Susan Crawford makes a very strong case for the universalisation of bidirectional high-speed broadband (for both upload and download) in every home and office, in her recent book “Captive Audience.”

True bidirectional high-speed, this is true broadband, with the guarantee of net neutrality and protection of other basic human rights for the end user.

As I said in the opening ceremony at the IGF in Baku, the absence of gatekeepers and the open, global communication enabled by the Internet is crucial to carry out the promise of Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

To impose restrictions to the free flow of information is and has always been contrary to the individual human right to freedom of expression. We ought to preserve and enhance fundamental communication rights as synthesized in the Final Statement of the First WSIS+10 Review event held last February at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.

As the Brazilian experience in pluralist governance exemplifies, any upcoming institutional arrangement for the governance of the Internet should never be restricted to just multilateral structures — we may need new governance mechanisms, but these must emphasize full participation of all sectors from policy conception to decision-making. Let us hope that the current CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation sheds a brilliant light on the path to the proper ways of effective international collaboration.

Let the Internet continue to flourish freely to the benefit of those who live at its edges, which are all of us. Thank you. “