More than 3,000 stakeholders from business, government, civil society, the technical community and academia gathered December 6-9 in Guadalajara, Mexico for the 11th Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The four-day conference featured wide-ranging discussions under the overarching theme, “Enabling Inclusive and Sustainable Growth,” a theme deliberately chosen to enable IGF participants to highlight the importance of the Internet and ICTs in realizing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set forth in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
This was the first IGF meeting since the United Nations renewed the forum’s mandate for another 10 years as part of the 2015 WSIS +10 Review, last year’s UN conference to take stock of commitments made at the pivotal 2005 World Summit on the Information Society. USCIB members joined global business colleagues under the aegis of ICC-BASIS (Business Action to Support the Information Society) in urging that the IGF not remain static, but continue to evolve in the coming decade as viable multi-stakeholder entity.
Joseph Alhadeff (Oracle), chair of the ICC Digital Economy Commission and vice-chair of USCIB’s ICT (Information, Communications and Technology) Policy Committee, stated that this approach to involve “informed contributions from business, government, civil society, and the technical community will continue to be key to ensuring that policies and regulations do not create unintended consequences or unnecessary burdens that impair the potential of emerging technologies to propel sustainable and inclusive development.”
The week culminated with strong endorsements from all IGF participants for a comprehensive approach to tackling obstacles to inclusive growth. Barbara Wanner, USCIB’s vice president for ICT Policy, emphasized that “a comprehensive approach should feature a shared commitment to Internet openness, expanded public-private partnerships, more focused attention to both supply- and demand-related issues affecting Internet deployment, including digital literacy, and enlightened regulation and legal frameworks.”
Wanner said IGF participants acknowledged that much of this will continue to require multi-billion-dollar investments in both infrastructure and local content to reach all communities. “They also emphasized the urgent need to address security issues undermining user confidence and trust and in the Internet,” she said. “A refrain throughout the week’s discussions was that vibrant, multi-stakeholder dialogue will best enable the Internet community to navigate these many challenges.”
Workshops on the role of women, “demand-side” capacity
USCIB organized two IGF workshops that went to the heart of the inclusive growth theme. Wanner moderated “An ‘Internet of Women’ by 2020: WSIS Vision to Reality,” a discussion involving 10 representatives from all stakeholder groups who examined the factors causing a significant and persistent gender digital divide that has hampered the ability of women to become productive members of the digital economy. The WSIS Outcome Document calls for achieving gender equality in Internet users by 2020. USCIB Members Hibah Kamal-Grayson (Google), Carolyn Nguyen (Microsoft), and Jackie Ruff (Verizon) discussed what their companies are doing to bridge the gender digital divide by improving digital literacy and ICT-related professional opportunities for women. All agreed that the challenge of gender digital equality cannot be tackled effectively by any one company, organization, or stakeholder group. Rather, this requires collaboration among all stakeholder groups, partnerships between business and government, linkages between local communities and national governments, and coordination across various international organizations and a need for a mix of both bottom-up and top-down initiatives.
Another workshop, “Demand Side Capacity for Internet Deployment,” explored efforts in regions as diverse as Africa and Latin America to build “demand-side” capacity,” a term referring to the development of local content and services in a variety of languages and efforts aimed at improving digital literacy, among other measures. This workshop was moderated by Ellen Blackler (The Walt Disney Company.) The WSIS Outcome Document recognized that such demand-side initiatives serve as essential complements to government efforts to improve competition, expand infrastructure and connectivity, and other “supply-side” policies. However, numerous surveys of Internet use in developing countries have indicated that, even when people have Internet access they seldom use it because they believe Internet access would have limited value due to a lack of content relevant to their interests and needs. Workshop panelists looked broadly at stakeholder efforts to create locally relevant content and considered challenges they face, ranging from weak digital literacy, to phone affordability, to problems securing venture capital financing. In particular, they maintained that public-private partnerships help to ensure that the content is locally relevant.
Next year’s IGF will be held in Geneva, Switzerland, December 18-21, 2017.