IGF: Internet Rights and Principals

During the 2018 Internet Governance Forum, I watched the webinar titled “DC on Internet Rights and Principals: Sustainable Future: The Internet, Humans Rights, and Environmental Issues”. The seminar was an open-mic discussion of the connectivity between the Internet, human rights, and the environment and the goal was to serve as the beginnings of a coalition on this topic. It discussed some of the key issues of accessibility, energy impact of Internet infrastructure, and finding a balance between equal access and sustainable access.

Access to information and internet as a means for development has been established as a human right under the Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet, but sustainability is something which historically has not been factored into the equation when it comes to striving for wider Internet access. The SDGs mention both sustainability and technology, but the link between them is left as something to be implied. But given the energy used in both creating the infrastructure for Internet use and in processing massive amounts of data, sustainability is absolutely something that needs to be brought into the conversation of expanding Internet accessibility.

One of the main themes of the seminar was the need to recognize and fill policy gaps. The fact that the SDGs don’t explicitly overlap energy, ICT infrastructure, and environmental sustainability is a major policy gap at the international level, but is also language that is missing at the state and local level. A new coalition called the Digital Cities Coalitions for Human Rights led by Amsterdam, Barcelona, and New York are working to create standards for companies and public spaces for the creation of data centers. Their goal is to incorporate internet as a human right into a holistic approach to sustainability for equitable, sustainable data centers which are popping up more and more in cities. A key takeaway from the seminar was the need to incorporate social inclusion and environmental awareness into the design of networks, products, and supply chains—regulation afterwards is less effective and more costly in resources and can delay equitable access.

Another key point was the importance of making this dialogue on internet, human rights, and environmental sustainability multi-stakeholder in nature. For example, the private sector has a critical role to play given that it collects massive amounts of data in comparison to the public sector. Additionally, local innovations and the formation of microgrids for internet as it were, could play an important role in achieving harmony between these three areas. Overall, the webinar brought together key themes of connection between the internet, human rights, and environmental sustainability in a manner that equalized the three fields and called for further collaboration to see sustainable, equitable access to the internet.

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Multistakeholder Internet Governance and the Digital Divide

When speaking about internet governance, the multi-stakeholder approach is known to work most effectively. This is because multi-stakeholder decision-making is accountable, sustainable, and inclusive.  The multi-stakeholder model can be described as one where individuals and organizations from different realms participate alongside each other to share and develop ideas and consensus policy. The Internet Society describes that the multi-stakeholder approach is widely accepted as the optimal way to make policy decisions for a globally allocated network such as the internet.  This is revealed through declarations, resolutions, and practices international organizations.

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ICTs and Sustainable Development

We live in an interconnected globalized world where information and communication are key components to development. However, not everyone has equal access to these communications resources and therefore there are communities around the world that get left out of global progress. Reports such as “The Missing Link” and “Falling through the Net” shed light on this issue, but what can be done to provide equal access to communications technologies to all?

There are several components to this issue, one of which lies in who is responsible for providing the ICTs. The two main actors at play are the public and private sectors. In situations where the public sector provides the good, it allows for the resource to be easily accessible to the entire population and generally offers low prices that are more affordable to the masses. However, for this to work, you need a stable democratic institute because in situations where this isn’t the case, the government often operates as a monopoly on the good and manipulates prices to fund other, inequitable projects such as war financing or personal profits. In the case where the private sector provides the resource, it can be provided efficiently and at the highest quality, but due to the profit seeking nature of private institutions, they will only provide the resource in areas that minimize costs and maximize benefits, leaving rural communities uncovered.

Other issues are more technical in nature, such as the physical cost of extending the ICT networks and laying down sufficient wire to cover the entire population. The technology is still relatively expensive, but with research and development in ICTs, this technology can quickly evolve and become less expensive. Currently, CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg is investing in solar drones that would fly around the world in fleets permanently, providing internet access to 4 billion people worldwide who are in the dark.

Although there are still many obstacles to providing ICTs to the global population, technology improves at exponential rates and I believe that as this technology evolves, finding ways to bridge this gap will become easier.

Digital Divide

The digital divide arises from the increase innovation and use of technologies. It refers to the gap between demographics that have access to the newest and most innovative technologies and those who do not. These demographics that do not have access to ICTs do not have the same opportunities and resources to advance their communities and solve societal problems. The digital divide represents the differences in economic class. This divide is especially seen with assess to cell phones and smart phones. The World Summit on Information Society has brought this issue to the forefront of the United Nations and demands that countries take action to bridge the technology gap.

Another aspect beside economic means is people with disabilities who offend cannot utilize technologies even if they gain access to them physically. People with disabilities face barriers from the technology’s software that prohibits them from using it. However new technologies are in place and continue to be created to improve software to make technology more accessible. The idea is to shift the mindset from the average user to all users. The concept of digital divides also came from a report entitled ‘Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide.’ This report examined the issue and focused on the internet as lacking in access to the developing world.

Digital Divide

In theory telecommunication are meant to bind us together, however as practice shows it often does the opposite. Digital divide refers to the inequalities between people, particularly it refers to the gap between regions and demographics that have access to modern information and communication technology, and those that don’t or have restricted across. And its not just about simply access to the technologies anymore but it also refers to those that have the necessary skills, knowledge, abilities to use the ICT. The divide exists between economic classes, between those who live in urban areas and those that are living in rural areas, who have education or those that don’t and a global scale, between those who are industrially advanced and those who are still in the developing state.

Until the late 20th century the divide split those with phone access and those without phone, which was the missing link in the Maitland Commission. Then with innovation in technology the focus of the divide became the Web: in 1995 the US Department of Commerce published ‘Falling through the net’ report- first report that looked at the digital divide, and found the racial, economic and geographic gap between those who have access to the internet and those that don’t.

Today the digital divide is a grand challenge that needs to be resolve because the lack of access and skills can lead to and reinforce disadvantages between individuals. Digital divide has the power to deprive the opportunities to be included and participate fully in the society, economy and other sectors. Lack of access to ICT in the age of modern technology will impact the individual’s career, lifestyle, safety. It will impact the skills and knowledge of the employees and general public participation.

Coming from a developing nation, seeing and even experiencing first hand the digital divide in terms of access to the internet not just in the nation, but also on a global scale I can say you there are many limitations and disparities.  In many cases children in rural areas (and at times in urban areas) do not have access to the internet, and thus have no access to recent information, they don’t have necessary skills to education, employment and many other opportunities to be part of an inclusive society.  This limits their opportunities on the competitive market, this impacts their communication skills with people their age, as well as their opportunity to learn more and have the chance to go or study abroad, because they lack the simple skills required in the technologically advanced world we live in.

 

How Net Neutrality is a Multi-stakeholder Internet Governance Issue

The internet is an international communications resource that allows the exchange of content between individuals across a network of devices. Because the internet has no centralized governing body, constituent networks are the ones that set the policies on internet usage. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai recently proposed a plan to kill the net neutrality laws in the US, and this proposal will be officially voted on December 14th. This plans intends to give ICT corporations the right to speed up, slow down, and even block access to content. This would violate free access to information and technology, charging people more for better access and forcing others onto cheaper, slower networks. This course of action has been met with serious contention by the American public who feel like their freedom of speech rights are being violated.

With issues such as net neutrality, it is essential to have a multi-stakeholder framework in place. By having government, the private sector, and civil society take part in the governance of the internet, it establishes a framework that prevents the control and abuse of internet access. In the case of net neutrality, it is a plan that is pushed by the lobbying groups of large communications providers and that is being reviewed by the government in order to become official legislation. However, civil societies are advocating against it and through petitions and protest, are fighting to upkeep the net neutrality. Fundamentally, the internet is a public good and a key component of the freedom of speech rights that are the foundation of a democratic institution. It is up to the government to uphold these values and ensure the well-being of the population. Through actions of civil society, the official vote for/against net neutrality can be swayed to counter the actions of the private sector that seek to make profits off of the control of content. The multi-stakeholder internet governance therefore creates a system of checks and balances in order to create a just and equitable system for internet provision in the US.

Digital divide(s) refers to the differences in access to Information and Communication Technologies between developed and developing countries. The term digital divide can also refer to a number of other differences in access to Information and Communication Technologies between different groups such as the rich and poor, and urban and rural communities. Many factors separate these groups, including access to quality Information and Communication Technologies (ITCs). These ITCs can take many forms, and range from access to telephone communications, to access to quality Internet connections. Within the United Nations, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and UNESCO have become the leading voices on bridging the many digital divides confronting our world. Due to the involvement of UNESCO, the portfolio of issues WSIS was set to address expanded significantly from network connectivity and Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) to include issues at the intersection of culture and technology, including human rights.

The twin summits in Geneva and Tunis that truly began the WSIS process attracted huge involvement from governments, the private sector, and civil society. The WSIS process since the summit in Geneva has had a significant focus on development as it relates to information technology. Many of the “Action Lines” agreed to at the Geneva Summit place emphasis on the role that information technology plays in e-commerce, access to information, and capacity building of every kind. WSIS’s ongoing work, and the grand challenge it is trying to address, is closely related to the Sustainable Development Goals. For example, WSIS has Action Lines aimed at deploying information technology to improve the environment and environmental governance, which line up with activities under SDG 13 for Climate Change, SDG 14 for Life below Water, and SDG 15 for Life on Land. Addressing digital divides in all their forms have therefore been folded into the overall sustainable development agenda toward which the world is working. WSIS’s multistakeholder approach to decision-making and development also seems well positioned to incorporate the necessary voices to have effective development programs.