As governments at the United Nations negotiate outcome documents for the 10 year review of the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the rest of the stakeholders of the global internet are fighting for a voice, especially users. A recent event alongside the WSIS talks explored the user perspective, and discussed the future of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the annual meeting taking place this week in Brazil.

Putting People at the Centre of the WSIS+10 Review” was held on 19 October at the UN in New York. And this year’s Internet Governance Forum is taking place from 10 – 13 November in João Pessoa, Brazil.

Listed speakers in the meeting at the UN in New York included: Brazil Amb. Benedicto Fonseca Filho; US Amb. Daniel Sepulveda (US State Dept); Anja Kovacs, Internet Democracy Project, India; Raul Echeberria, Internet Society (ISOC); Ann Miroux, UN Conference on Trade and Sustainable Development (UNCTAD); Dominique Lazanski, GSM Association; and Grace Githaiga, Kenya ICT Action Network. The event was moderated by Deborah Brown of the Association for Progressive Communication (APC).

The New York event was sponsored by APC, ISOC, the Internet Democracy Project, and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).

Kovacs opened by discussing two meetings: an Asian regional consultation on the WSIS+10 Review, and a strategy meeting of global civil society on the WSIS+10 Review.

She said they decided to focus the conversation on development, human rights, and internet governance, and that the focus is on access not being an on or off” issue, but rather different degrees. They talked about benefits of social inclusion but also the harms of social exclusion, she said. Equality can be worsened rather than reduced by information technology. They also focused on the role of the state. On human rights and the outcome, they wanted much more discussion, such as freedom of expression, women, minorities and other issues. And they thought the document should address human rights in terms of strategy, as governments need a more proactive approach. People are being killed for expression, she said. On internet governance, they recognised the need for more principles. And finally, financing mechanisms are needed.

Some of Kovac’s views were reflected in two earlier papers, available here:

These pieces recognise that there is space for both multilateralism and multistakeholderism in internet governance, Kovacs told Intellectual Property Watch afterward. However, they also argue, as she did at the side event, that both those spaces and processes as such and their scope should be agreed on by all stakeholder groups as provided for in the definition of internet governance in the Tunis Agenda” [which resulted from the 2005 WSIS in Tunisia].

If there is still a certain tension between multistakeholderism and multilateralism, this is because of continued mistrust on all sides that results from trying to skip deve zdstr6z 7 loping shared norms, rules and decision-making procedures as the IG definition demands,” Kovacs said.

She noted that the internet governance definition does not say decisions have to develop collectively by all, which she said is a recognition of the fact that different stakeholders should take the lead on taking decisions on different aspects. As long as the processes in which those decisions are taken are considered legitimate at all, this needn’t be a problem,” she said.

Githaiga said a regional African consultation had been held in September in Addis Ababa, with a range of different groups. Africa has not come out very strongly in the WSIS process, yet it needs to be seen and heard,” she said.

Some African countries belong to Group of 77 (G77), she noted, which submitted a document with challenges. Some, like affordable access and broadband reach and quality, still need to be addressed in Africa, she said.

Also, for WSIS Internet Governance Forum to be helpful to countries, it needs to be not just a talking shop” in order to contribute to debates on development.

She also said the digital divide is still a major problem” in Africa along with the gender divide, and work will continue for 2030. And she noted a need for human rights. In Africa, the digital divide is still more of an economic divide, she said. A reliable and sustainable ICT system is necessary. Plus, the same rights as offline must be protected online, as in Declaration on Human Rights.

The moderator said that some of those issues are addressed in the zero draft” of outcomes for the 15 – 16 December high-level meeting at the UN in New York, others in a paper.

Diminished Expectations

Amb. Fonseca said we had very high visions for this process,” but at this point in time our expectations are somewhat diminished.” He said we can count on a very robust process. But the time for actual interaction between negotiators and stakeholders is minimal.

Fonseca said there is a need to reaffirm WSIS. The action lines and other activities carried out during the 10 years is a whole body of work that should be preserved, he said. They should take account of issues that have come about since 2005, and ensure that they have the proper mechanisms in place.

He said it is no surprise” Brazil fully supports the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the non-negotiating body set up by the 2005 WSIS. For a balanced outcome for internet governance issues, they need to agree on the way forward on issues. Extending the IGF is one thing they need to do. He mentioned a meeting hosted by Mexico that resulted in recommendations.

Miroux of UNCTAD discussed linking the WSIS+10 with the SDGs, with perhaps more explicit linkages between documents, such as education or others.

Dominique Lazanski of the GSM Association highlighted the goals of affordable access, gender divide, also addressing skills, with a focus on the local level. The linkage of SDGs and WSIS is necessary and could include capacity building on the ground. GSM partners with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Gates Foundation. An enabling environment for increased investment is needed.

Time for Action

Echeberria of ISOC said this is not a time for more reflection, but rather, This is a time for action.” Goals have been set at national, regional and global level at summits, which is good, but there are times to focus on implementation, and this is time.”

There is a sense of urgency” for the implementation of the issues on the table, he said. Half of the world is still not connected to the internet, something we need to fix as soon as possible.”

Having meetings and discussing is important, but we need action,” he urged. In promoting linkage of ICTs to the SDGs, he went further to say ICT goals are not just another kind of goal,” as they are crucial for accomplishing all other goals. ICT is present in everything, and is key to achieving all other goals, said Echeberria.

Echeberria said he hopes there be another summit for the next few years, to allow for action in the meantime. They cannot start process for a summit to be held in 5 years, as the kinds of meetings they have would mean weeks of meeting every year.

He described pillars” to work on, including: building infrastructure, especially in developing countries; building communities, noting it is important that people want to be connected and realise the importance of it; gender equality and capacity building; and bringing all of the experiences to feed the policy process. He said this is the only way to move from connecting thousands to millions and millions.

Sepulveda said WSIS is a living process” and a growing community, adding, That’s healthy and good.” There are more institutions, more types of people involved in the process than 10 years ago. All parts of the process played a role in the process. Now, he said, it is time to reaffirm” what was achieved, reinvest in the existing community, and do not invest in any new processes.

Sepulveda called the WSIS the most multi-stakeholder event in UN history.”

Line of Logic

The US delegate called the extension of IGF for another 5 years arbitrary and insufficient.” He noted afterward that the length of time should be tied to a line of logic”. For instance, the World Economic Forum is an endless” forum. If a forum has to be renewed every 5 years, then why do people contribute, he asked.

Sepulveda also said that whatever is decided about this institution or its sister institutions going forward, we do not commit to any meetings without a strong multi-stakeholder process.” The whole body” needs to embrace what has been a democratisation of the process,” and it has to be more open and multi-stakeholder than this one.

He asked practical questions about the notion of enhanced cooperation,” such as toward what end, what venue, and how it affects the health and well-being of other institutions in this process.

And on financing mechanisms, Sepulveda said its needs to be ensured they are healthy as well. We cannot send good money into bad places,” he said.

They want a commitment for existing development organisations to contribute, he added. This is already the World Bank and other institutions, and every nation has a strategy. Connectivity should be made a priority. If make a voluntary, there will be no volunteers,” he quipped.

If we’re going to shoot for internet for everyone,” said Sepulveda, it can’t be where there are monopoly providers, heavy censorship, or heavy state-owned enterprises. They have to look at models as internet access drastically varies. Closed countries do not have as much internet access, he said, citing examples of Cuba and Bolivia having low access.

Now the need is to start being more specific and to ensure whole community is involved, he said. This is to some extent a movement and a family. We don’t always agree.”

The Brazilian ambassador said on the IGF extension, We don’t need a tenth additional IGF to demonstrate its usefulness,” and suggested it be turned into a permanent body with support. We don’t see a replacement,” he said.

Nonetheless, he said, as Brazil was preparing to host the IGF, they were making sure to further engage on the process that has begun to make IGF output more relevant for community.

Echeberria told Intellectual Property Watch later that the IGF is much more than a networking event. It is a place where the international agenda is set. It is an event attended by almost everybody.” At the meeting, one can see the topics for the rest of the year.”

He also said IGF is the right venue” for discussing controversial topics, like surveillance.

Originally published in Intellectual Property Watch.