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The COVID-19 crisis has underscored how access to the internet is essential for human rights such as the right to work, health and access to education. Internet access also has proven critical to ensure political participation, freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly during the health crisis, whether for demanding state accountability and transparency in the handling of the pandemic, or to continue addressing persistent social and political issues in different countries. The current pandemic calls for renewed commitments to digital inclusion, both at the national and international levels, and ITU expertise in this field is key to achieve such a goal. We encourage the ITU to continue to focus on its core mandate of “Connecting all the World”.
In the context of the pandemic, community networks and other non-commercial business models for providing connectivity have contributed to providing effective responses to increased connectivity demands, including public health-related ones. However, enabling policies and regulations to unleash the potential of community networks and other small network operators to deliver meaningful internet access everywhere are still scarce. We call upon states to recognise the value and impact of community networks in digital inclusion. Internet-related public policy must acknowledge and address the persistent inequalities in internet access that people facing multiple and intersecting forms of exclusion and discrimination face. In particular, we focus in this submission on the exacerbated gender digital inequalities. Environmental justice and sustainability also need to be recognised as essential components of internet-related public policies that aim to achieve universal digital inclusion and to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and possible future pandemics.
Finally, ensuring connectivity and meaningful ways of remote interaction for participating in internet-related public policy and governance discussions is also essential in order to ensure that the strategies and policies adopted reflect and cover a variety of situations across different regions. Hence, this submission calls for internet-related policy making that is democratic, multistakeholder, grounded in international human rights standards, people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented.
Read the full submission here.