Shaping the Internet's Future

Pacific Report to the Dynamic Coalition of Small Island Developing States in the Internet Economy

2019 was an active year for Pacific involvement in the Internet economy. What we have demonstrated is that originating from small island developing states (SIDS) in the Pacific does not restrict one’s opportunity to become a leader within large international organizations like ICANN, which manages and allocates domain names and IP addresses globally.

I was very honored that my colleagues from the ICANN At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) elected me to be their Chair for 2019, and again for the upcoming year. It has enabled me to use my organizational management skills which I did by distance learning from Rarotonga through Massey University in New Zealand.

My Cook Islands colleague, Pua Hunter, was also elected at the recent ICANN meeting as regional co-chair for the Government Advisory Committee (GAC). She is already the chair of GAC’s Underserved Regions Committee. Such leadership roles have also been achieved by others from SIDS in other Internet-related organizations, which goes to show that being from small islands does not mean that we will go unnoticed if we are prepared to be active in our commitment to improving our regions.

The Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society (PICISOC) received a boost at the elections last year, when four former PICISOC Board leaders returned to the Board to rejuvenate and boost its membership. The Board re-established PICISOC’s website and started populating it with local articles about successful ICT-related activities, including the achievements of successful women in ICT.

One notable success was Branicia Itsimaera who recently graduated from the Unitec Institute of Technology in Auckland, New Zealand with a Bachelor of Computing Systems degree. She is the only woman working in the ICT sector on her small island of Nauru. This is not an easy achievement in anyone’s world but when you come from a SIDS and you are a woman, this is particularly significant.

During the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (IGF) held in July in Vladivostok, Russia, PICISOC was represented by two Board members, Anju Mangal from Fiji and myself from the Cook Islands. We picked up a new recruit, James Ah Wai from Samoa, who although a first-time attendee of any IGF event, took to his speaking tasks like a duck to water. He came from a background of general interest in Internet Governance, and soon after his return to Samoa took on the role of president of their newly-formed Samoa Information Technology Association.

One significant event for school students from 11 Pacific Island countries was their participation in the FIRST Global Challenge, an international Olympics-style robotics event established three years ago to encourage children to pursue science and engineering careers. FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.” Samoa finished first among the Pacific Islands contingent with a ranking of 26 out of 193 countries, and Cook Islands came second among the Pacific participants in a very creditable 30th place for their first time in the competition.

Another development in the Cook Islands was the establishment of a Centre of Excellence in Information Technology. This is a joint collaboration project of the Government of India and the Government of Cook Islands to offer specialised training programmes in the field of ICT to the citizens of Cook Islands, where each programme is customised to meet the needs of the local business community. This is a major move forward for international collaboration where the outcomes of the support are specifically beneficiary-country-centric.

Read the original article on the Cook Islands Internet Action Group.

Shaping the Internet's Future

Voices from the Pacific at APrIGF

The Asia-Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) was held on 16-19 July 2019 at the recently constructed Far Eastern Federal University on Russky Island in Vladivostok, Russia. The theme of this year’s event was “Enabling a Safe, Secure and Universal Internet for All in Asia-Pacific,” with 22 sessions covering six sub-themes: safer Internet, cybersecurity and regulation; access and universality; emerging technologies and society; human rights online; the evolving role of Internet governance (IG) and multistakeholder participation; and digital economy.

The Board of the Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society (PICISOC) was represented by Anju Mangal from Fiji, James Ahwai from Samoa, and myself from the Cook Islands. James Ahwai, a newcomer to the IG scene, participated as a panellist in the opening plenary on The State of Play and Outlook for IG in the Asia-Pacific and contributed a Pacific perspective. Anju Mangal, a former member of the IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group, moderated the closing plenary on APrIGF Multistakeholder Participation in the Global IGF.

I led a workshop, which was a follow-up to a session on “e-Government for Empowering Pacific Citizens,” introduced at the APrIGF in Vanuatu last year. This year, PICISOC Board member, Cherie Lagakali, a participant in the 2018 event and this time attending remotely, provided an excellent overview of Fiji’s new e-government website that has been developed with support from the Singaporean government. At the workshop, Anju Mangal also reported on the e-Government Roundtable “The Future of Digital Government for Sustainable Development,” which she attended in the Republic of Korea in June with Fellow PICISOC Board member Andrew Molivurae. PICISOC and participants of the workshop discussed and articulated the needs of the Pacific and the many challenges that governments of small island developing states face. They include challenges with connectivity and bandwidth, affordability of broadband, inadequate legal and regulatory frameworks, shortage of requisite human capacity, failure to use local language and content, and lack of entrepreneurship and a business culture that is open to change. With these issues to contend with, small island states in the Pacific have not been able to reap the benefits of digital development.

I also participated as a panelist in the plenary session on Digital Accessibility, moderated by Rajnesh D. Singh. For me, one key takeaway from this session was the role of governments and the budget priority they should give to accessibility issues, including universal acceptance. There needs to be more across-the-board awareness and education about accessibility issues, for building codes, as well as online, and governments have an important facilitating and catalyzing role in implementing accessibility requirements. This is more so in developing countries where national budgets are usually assigned to other priorities. In the Pacific, for example, the cost of technology development is a major inhibiting factor.
PICISOC will produce a report on the sessions, that members participated in, to the Dynamic Coalition on Small Island States in the Internet Economy as input to the global Internet Governance Forum that will be held in November 2019.

One of the unique features of the APrIGF is a Synthesis Document that is produced by a drafting committee of volunteers. Each day at the event, a Town Hall session was held where participants offered important takeaways from sessions they participated in during the day. These contributions were collated into a document under the six sub-themes of the forum, which becomes a summary of the hot topics, views, and perspectives from this event. When participants attend other similar events, they can reference the document as the views of those who attended this year’s APrIGF event.

Contributing to the success of this event were the great communications teams who were on hand in each of the session rooms. The state-of-the-art equipment at the university ensured quality sessions with clear inputs by every participant (both remotely and in the room). Real-time transcription as well as multiple screens were available – the sort of thing we can only wish for in the Pacific. But it certainly raised the benchmark and ensured that we had a great event. Many thanks to Mikhail, Leonid, and the Russian APrIGF Team for a great event and a great gala as well.

Next year’s APrIGF will be held in Nepal.

Image credit: TLD RU