Skip to main content
Photos: Nils Brock

This year’s theme of the United Nations’ most significant multi-stakeholder event concerning internet governance was, “The Internet We Want - Empowering All People”. If the theme became a question – what is the internet we want – voices ​​from the Access Sound Bites at the IGF 2023 – a series of short interviews made during this year’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF) – highlighted different aspects of the answer: the use of the internet to improve communities’ well-being, promote human rights and environment justice, creation and dissemination of local content from multiple voices, and the need for language justice online. They also highlighted some of the barriers that prevent internet access precisely in places where other rights violations are happening, such as  high prices of connectivity, and policies and regulations that limit the performance of community networks.

Earlier this year, in a contribution to the campaign #TheIGFWeWant, APC’s Local Access Programme co-manager Kathleen Diga highlighted the importance of spaces where people from different walks can come together to dialogue and build trust. “The meeting spaces have been organised in order to listen to the different perspectives. I particularly like seeing young people from the global South who are brought to these spaces. They have a different digital perspective,” she observed. 

Through the years of working with Rhizomatica and many partners within the Local Networks initiative, APC learned with grassroots communities that connectivity can become meaningful when it is community-centred, e.g. when it operates in a local context where it is affordable and accessible in terms of the locally used language(s), location and devices, with connectivity meeting the expressed needs of the community and adding value to people’s personal, social and/or economic lives.

During this year’s IGF, journalist Nils Brock, consultant from APC member Rhizomatica and collaborator of German media development organisation DW Akademie, collected audio sound bites from those who were able to attend the gathering in Kyoto, Japan, from 8 to 12 October 2023. Many of these voices also focus on a similar topic: the importance of promoting connectivity leaving no one behind – both in terms of access to the internet and also concerning which voices are heard, or not, when digital inclusion and internet governance policies and priorities are defined. Overall, the voices from those who were able to attend the forum in person help remember the many who could not, once they indicated the importance of participatory and multi-stakeholder processes to discuss and build a more inclusive and worthwhile digital future leaving no one behind. 

In this piece, we gather some of the 2023 IGF voices from our Access Local Sound Bites as part of an ongoing debate on how connectivity can become significant in the multiple realities experienced around the world. 

Digital divide and access inequalities persist under the current connectivity model 

“The beginning and the end is still connectivity and as long as not everybody has access to the internet, we are not there yet.” 
Markus Kummer, an internet governance and policy expert from Switzerland, who was also the secretary of the first IGF. Play here.

“Among 12 people [interviewed], three didn’t use the internet at all and seven use only mobile internet, which is a challenge. Beyond this, people also lack electricity access. People have some challenges related to environmental issues.”
Camila Leite from the IDEC, the Brazilian Institute of Consumer Protection, on the research they did in partnership with Derechos Digitales on internet access in the Amazonian region in Brazil. Play here.  

Language and affordability as barriers

“Right now in our context, [the] major blocks are accessibility in terms of cost, affordability and meaningful connectivity. So even if people have an internet connection it might not be in a bandwidth actually used for work.” 
Neema Iyer, the founder of Pollicy from Uganda. Play here

“We need a movement to make multilingual internet [that] actually speaks to digital inclusion. It’s really about language justice online. Just think about it: today we still have almost 60% of the web in English.” 
Edmon Chung, the Chief Executive Officer from Hong Kong. Play here

“The language remains a challenge. In fact, the more people are on the internet, the more different languages and the more cultures we will get.” 
Markus Kummer, an internet governance and policy expert from Switzerland who was also the secretary of the first IGF. Play here.

The importance of supporting community-centred connectivity

“Community networks are the perfect place to start. That is where the local language makes more sense as well. That is where a multilingual internet can begin.” 
Edmon Chung, the Chief Executive Officer from Hong Kong. Play here

"With community networks, it is possible to have very interesting connectivity coverage in some places, and lower operating costs. But access to the spectrum for us is an aspect that is somehow limiting the implementation of networks that can use these technologies and  which are much more efficient for remote communities.”
Julián Casabuenas, de Colnodo (Colombia). Play here. [Available in Spanish.] 

“There is so much content creation within developing countries. There is so much information that can be shared among communities. When we facilitate these people with affordable broadband and meaningful internet, it means we are giving them access to such content that is able to improve their socio-economic well-being.”
Mwendwa Kivuva, from KICTANet (Kenya). Play here

Participatory processes can shape more inclusive policy and regulation 

“The model that has been adopted in our countries is an auction model, meaning that you have to pay a lot of money to get access. In Colombia, for example, there are many rural areas that have no connectivity whatsoever. Allocating spectrum to non-profit initiatives in remote areas can contribute to reducing the digital divide with a focus on community networks. That is to say, the communities themselves manage their own connectivity.”
Julián Casabuenas, de Colnodo (Colombia). Play here

“The solution is to have public policies with public participation of civil society, of people impacted, who should be heard. Beyond public policies, we have to think how the internet can be more accessible, considering the high prices.”
Camila Leite from the IDEC, the Brazilian Institute of Consumer Protection. Play here

“The government is the one that creates and facilitates an enabling environment in each country. One way they can help is to reduce taxation on equipment and services. Another way is for internet service providers to work closely with the communities so they can understand community needs and provide an internet that is meaningful.  The people from the global South or global majority shouldn’t be left behind.” 
Mwendwa Kivuva, from KICTANet (Kenya). Play here.

“It is important that the people and organisations that are developing applications and platforms and  who are in charge of the massification of the internet in public institutions listen to users’ voices and take them into consideration. Not only to collect their opinions but also to be part of the design and planning of projects and public policies to have a more inclusive approach, and serve citizenship and human rights.”
Paola Corporán, Joven Embajadora de ISOC de República Dominicana. Play here.

Listen to all the Access Sound Bites here. 
All the recordings were realised with an open-source digital news room app, Colmena, developed with community networks partners like REDES AC, and other local and community media partners from Africa and Latin America.