By Pablo Accuosto and Valeria Betancourt RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, 13 February 2008
Through an initiative of the Information Network for Civil Society (RITS), Latin American and Caribbean actors met in Rio de Janeiro on November 11 2007 to exchange ideas from a regional perspective on the issues that would begin to be debated the following day at the second Internet Governance Forum.
Focusing on “critical internet resources”, they analysed the great disparities existing in the cost of network access, both nationally as well as internationally. In the opening presentation, Carlos Afonso, of RITS, labelled as worrisome the lack of a forum for negotiation of the costs of international traffic, which leaves price-setting to the big companies or private consortia. The result is that connection costs in developing countries are, for the most part, significantly higher than those of the central countries (just as access costs in the areas furthest from urban centres are significantly higher within some countries).
Sebastián Bellagamba of the Internet Society (ISOC) pointed out that the region’s current internet development is a product of several interrelated factors. In terms of interconnection costs, for example, he indicated that we must be mindful of a country’s particular weaknesses when it comes to negotiating better international connection prices. A higher volume of traffic is needed, which makes an increase in regional traffic imperative. In turn, this makes it necessary to increase traffic locally and between countries in the region. Greater regional traffic naturally depends on the physical configuration of the network and having direct links, both between as well as within countries of the region. But it is also greatly conditioned by the availability of local content that can stimulate this traffic.
The idea of a broad focus in analysing interconnection costs (as well emphasis on the creation of demand for local content) is also promoted by Raúl Echeberría in a recent article. Based on this “holistic” vision of the problems that affect the region, it is possible and necessary to identify national and regional responsibilities for the lack of successful policies that could place our countries in a better negotiating position (without overlooking the economic dynamics and global policies).
Another issue dealt with was that of openness. Fernando Barrios, of the London Metropolitan University, maintained that technology, regulatory frameworks and decision-making processes should be open. He stated that the adoption of open standards should be a requirement in developing countries and that regulatory frameworks should guarantee access to instruments and knowledge, and should promote real competition, strengthening the regulatory capacity of the states. Opening up the decision-making processes is basically a question of democracy and a response when confronting new forms of domination and dependency imposed by globalisation.
On the issue of diversity, Daniel Pimienta underlined the need to understand it in its entirety. To that end, he presented a framework of analysis on the digital divide: the paradigmatic divide. Daniel’s proposal stems from the understanding that the digital divide is a reflection of the social divide in the digital world, and that certain obstacles must be overcome in order to make the most of ICT potential to catalyse paradigm changes.
Finally, the meeting participants discussed the need to have open dialogue spaces on a regional level in order to make progress on proposals and concrete solutions on the issues being debated in the IGF. Although regional political arenas for debating some of these topics do exist, as is the case for the eLAC process, they are conditioned and limited by the pressure to reach negotiated agreements, as well as by their essentially intergovernmental nature. In the meeting sponsored by RITS, some participants suggested the idea of creating a “Latin American chapter of the IGF,” which, using the same principles of the global forum, would allow for the development of proposals and alternatives for concrete solutions that the region could then present to the IGF.
If the necessary political will were gathered so this initiative could prosper, it would be one of the first positive results of the IGF in Brazil for Latin America and would provide an opportunity for the actors in the region to actively partake in the forum’s activities and its mode of operation.