Growing the Internet Internet Governance

ICTs at the heart of the Development Agenda – From high-level declarations to action

The first annual Multistakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) was held last week, at the United Nations’ headqurters. This is one of the outcomes of 193 world leaders at a UN in September 2015 agreeing that connectivity was so important, that they made it a concrete target of the new Development Goals. Leading a session on the impact of ICTs on Development, The Internet Society took part in the debate.

While the transformative power of technology isn’t new, what is new, is the wide recognition by the international community that the Internet is a critical component of future UN development efforts. This recognition is reflected directly in the 2030 Agenda, but also in parallel processes such as the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Large institutions like the World Bank are also shifting their lending policies to ensure information and communications technology (ICT) development criteria become central to countries’ success.

In this sense, the meeting illustrated the collective acknowledgement that ICTs and the Internet are critical enablers of the SDGs.

This is only the beginning

The immense possibilities of the Internet lie in the fact that it serves as a platform for communications of any kind. It has the potential of providing solutions for everything from education and agriculture to gender equality and climate change. Whenever people access the Internet, they unlock a tool for trade, knowledge and creativity.

Although the commercial Internet is now more than 20 years old, we’ve only seen the beginning. New innovations in Internet technologies that go “beyond the web” and “beyond mobile” — such as sensor nets, remotely operated health equipment, smart city applications, smart farming, etc. – are becoming reality. These technologies are the new frontier of a hyper-connected world with revolutionary potential. Ensuring that this “Internet of Things” is accessible in the developing world is not only important to improve human conditions, but also to minimize the social and economic gap of the global digital divide.

Making it happen

In order to make this a reality, we must weave concrete actions into the high-level declarations of intention, otherwise nothing will happen.

The fact that 40% of the global population has access to the Internet is significant given its short history, but this means that still over half of the world’s population is not connected. Connecting the remaining billions is a multifaceted challenge that encompasses more than just putting fiber-optic cables in the ground. It’s also about making the Internet relevant by promoting local content and digital literacy as well as making the Internet affordable to those currently offline.

Connecting the unconnected will need multiple approaches, as there is no one solution to connect them all.

Private investment, progressive government policies and user empowerment will speed deployment and adoption of the Internet, but it will also take networks of NGO’s and civil society groups working with governments and other stakeholders.

Working together, we hold the pieces of the puzzle that constitute sustainable development.

Growing the Internet

AfPIF Shows How A Vibrant Internet Community Can Be Built For Sustainable Development

The adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) this week in New York is a milestone for the international community. And, implementing these goals is the challenge of our times.

We applaud the world’s governments for agreeing to a specific, active agenda to address clearly defined sustainability goals. Making the SDGs a reality will of course, involve the cooperation and collaboration of the whole of the global community across continents, cultures and disciplines –not just governments but also business, academia and the many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have the knowledge, know how and tools to advance the mission.

At the Internet Society, increasing Internet access to the Internet of Opportunity has been part of our core mission since our earliest days – and we have a strong agenda for development work that includes increasing access to everyone, everywhere.

Yesterday I wrote about why community building is critical for the implementation of the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – today I want to showcase a model of how community building can happen.

The African Peering and Interconnection Forum (or “AfPIF), organized by the Internet Society – is now in its sixth year. AfPIF brings together technical experts, content creators, government officials, community members, and business leaders who care deeply about expanding access to the Internet. It was held recently in Maputo, Mozambique. I encourage participants of the upcoming UN Sustainable Development Summit to watch the archived discussions on the live video stream of the AfPIF event to experience the excitement and to note the organizational elements of its success. A few observations:

Working Together

There is no question that when experts from a variety of disciplines come together to do something – anything – it can challenge the very best of us.

AfPIF is now attracting experts from across Africa dedicated to bringing the open Internet across this great continent. It is attended by hundreds of people who either don’t have a practical way to meet on a daily basis, or may not have met otherwise. But the thirst to meet face to face and learn from one another is unmatched.

What is the secret? Their goal. They know that the only way to build a faster, less expensive, and better Internet in Africa is to come together, share ideas, plan and build.

It’s what some call the “multi-stakeholder model” but we prefer to call “collaborative governance”. Where partners come together – technical experts, businesses, non-profits, and governments – to work together to sort through issues.

This model goes to the very core of the development of the open Internet. From the technology that runs networks – to the policies that help guide how it is governed and liberalized. This model – at its core – means that those with a stake in the future of the Internet need an equal voice in the decisions of how the Internet is deployed and used.

You only have to take part in the event to see why it works.  Imagine what could be possible if we all worked this way?

What We Can Do

As we look at AfPIF, how can we apply this remarkable model to help the SDGs succeed?

1. First, the creation of regional community action groups across each of the 17 SDGs would greatly enhance our probability of success. Different “stakeholders” are required to tackle each of our ambitious goals in the alleviation of poverty, the advancement of health and education and in addressing climate change. Action groups need to be representative from across both providers and users to give richness of values and voice in decision-making.

2. Second, a yearly review of the SDG process would be welcomed. Let’s keep track of what’s worked, what hasn’t, and where we need to reboot.

3. Third, our approach to implementation of the SDGs needs to be collaborative, undertaken with a spirit of global and regional camaraderie and a drive to listen and learn.

4. Finally and Importantly, in order to scale results, we must use the Internet and other ICTs. Our strategies must integrate 21st Century technology tools into each SDG to have a sustainable outcome. And, in order to use the Internet, it must be available to everyone. Building the infrastructure is still job 1.

Congratulations to the AfPIF participants for being a model for diversity, innovation, and change! We are looking forward to AfPIF 2016 in Tanzania. You can attend either in person or by using the Internet. It’s the collaborative model at work and it truly deserves to be experienced, celebrated and replicated.

Photo: © Internet Society / Nyani Quarmyne  CC BY 2.0
Community Projects Growing the Internet Internet Governance

UN Summit in NY This Week Will Highlight the Role of the Internet of Opportunity In Sustainable Development

How can the global Internet play a role in the future of a sustainable global society? And how can we bring the next 4 billion people online so that they, too, can participate in the Internet of Opportunity?

This week the United Nations will host in New York an important summit on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will guide future work by international community in alleviating poverty, advancing health and education and preserving our planet for the future.

The Internet Society is eager to discuss how the global Internet and related technologies can enable a world of greater prosperity and promise. In this light, I will be participating in a high-level panel discussion at the United Nations this coming Sunday, September 27, on “Development in the Digital Age“, where I will focus on these topics.

As I wrote about last month, I am pleased that the UN’s “post-2015 development agenda” includes the goal “to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.

This is critical. We, at the Internet Society, believe that the Internet is for everyone and that it should be available everywhere.

Never before have we seen such technical and human innovation – and so many opportunities to bring economic and social benefits to all of us. Access to information and stored knowledge, together with human creativity, ingenuity and intellectual and financial investment in the Internet ecosystem has provided us with almost unlimited ability to finally solve the world’s most pressing needs. We must now act to ensure that the our best chance at fundamental progress toward our goals is available to everyone.

We know that the SDG challenges are steep and impact every part of the world. Thus, focusing on the Means of Implementation is so very critical. ICTs — particularly the Internet — are uniquely positioned to facilitate implementation of each and every SDG goal -– as well as to leverage the innovation, collaboration, and partnerships needed to make them a reality. One of the most powerful attributes of the Internet is how it reflects technologically-enabled processes of collaboration and partnership. Everyone on the Internet adds something to it.

And, community building is the key. If we are to successfully connect communities around the world that are overlooked and underserved, then we must work as a global community, coming together for a common purpose. I firmly believe that our remarkable gains in recent years are due to the open, distributed way in which the Internet itself has been governed. We are committed to the so-called “multi-stakeholder” approach which acknowledges that no one group, be it governments, the technical community, industry, commerce, Internet service providers or civil society can “govern” the Internet alone.

If we are to continue to improve overall availability, and in particular individual access in developing countries, then I believe we must maintain this innovative and cooperative approach, which might perhaps better be referred to as “Collaborative Governance“.

Indeed, if we are to ensure that next 4 billion online users will have full access to the Internet of Opportunity, the current, transparent and demonstrably successful system of governance must be maintained. To do otherwise would stifle innovation and risk subdividing the global reach of the Internet, thereby diminishing its capacity and promise of rich knowledge transfer, worldwide collaboration, sustainable development and economic growth.

Our sustainability commitment reminds us that, as we look toward the 10-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in December, it is imperative that all relevant stakeholders are included in the process and that we collectively remain focused on the end goal of creating a more sustainable and prosperous world through an Internet that is available to all.

Image credit: Adam Adamus on Flickr

Development Growing the Internet

UN Post-2015 Development Agenda Recognizes Need To Expand Internet Access

I was very pleased to see that earlier this week the United Nations Development Programme reached an agreement on the “post-2015 development agenda” that includes a strong recognition of the role that information and communication technology (ICT) has in bringing about a better world.

These Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are important because they guide the direction of UN activity – and through that the member countries – with regard to improving the lives of people and ensuring peace, prosperity and the sustainability of our planet.

This new document, “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda For Sustainable Development“, has at its heart the need to involve all relevant stakeholders. The Internet Society and many others worked hard to ensure that the importance of the Internet is recognised in the overall development context. So I was delighted to see the inclusion of the following brief, but I believe fundamentally important formula in the operational parts of the UN development agenda for the next 5 years.

It is a simple formula which reads in para 9c ‘Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.

Bravo. A truly excellent objective in the achievement in which the Internet Society will be very pleased to participate. Since our founding in 1992, bringing about an Internet where the opportunity is available to everyone has been and continues to be a critical part of our mission.

I was also pleased by other sections of the document that emphasize the importance of partnerships with stakeholders across all segments of society, not only governments. This kind of collaboration is key to creating the Internet of opportunity that we want to see for all.

Importantly, the Sustainable Development Agenda provides an excellent foundation for the discussions we will have as part of the UN Review of the Implementation of WSIS Outcomes by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2015. Great progress has been made on the lines of inquiry over the past ten years. But, the progress has been uneven. The main priority of the world now should be to connect the rest of the world. The post 2015 development agenda informs of us WHAT must be done; the most important outcome of WSIS for the advancement of those goals is to embrace the Internet, and the multistakeholder culture of the Internet, as a vital tool for HOW to meet the development goals.

This news this week is a great step forward and I look forward to further discussion – and adoption – of these goals at meetings in the UN next month.

NOTE: For background information about the Sustainable Development Goals, please see our paper, “The Internet and Sustainable Development“.

Photo credit: UN Sustainable Development Goals