Open forum: World Economic Forum

8 Dec 2016 13:30h - 14:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 11th Internet Governance Forum]

Mr Alex Wong, Head of Global Challenge Partnerships at the WEF, opened the session by noting that in spite of its recognition as a critical enabler of social and economic development, four billion people do not use the Internet. Wong said that connecting the unconnected requires a multistakeholder, multisector approach, and said this session was a conversation to talk about how global, regional, and national coordination can be improved so that efforts are not unnecessarily duplicated.

Ms Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Chief of Strategic Planning, International Telecommunications Union, said that most of the offline population lives in Asia-Pacific and Africa, and is disproportionately female. She said that 60% of the unconnected population live in rural areas, and 60% have a GNI per capita of less than $6500 per year. Bodgan-Martin said that if we continue with business as usual, by 2020, there will not be 1.5 billion more people online, as was once anticipated.

Mr Michael Kende, Senior Fellow, Internet Society, said that part of the digital divide is a data divide. ‘If you can’t measure it,’ he said, ‘you can’t improve it.’ Kende said that the data often exists but actors – be they governments, civil society, or business – do not have access to the data that they need in order to make the best decisions on new policies, investments, choices, and initiatives. He said that the first step is to collaborate, pool together data, and where appropriate, anonymise it. The second step would be to identify gaps in the data, one of which may be surveying non-users of the Internet. Kende said that both steps require resources, but would be an excellent way of filling the data divide and helping increase Internet inclusion.

Mr Christopher Yoo, Professor of Law, Communication, and Computer & Information Science at the University of Pennsylvania, said that measurement changes behaviour regardless of whether the reward structure is changed or not. He said that collecting data encourages deductionalism, because ‘it makes us want to attribute causation when it’s not always possible.’ If data is collected, Yoo said we have to learn how to use the data and be mindful as to how much variation there is within data sets. A challenge is that “people who have data don’t like sharing it,’ but incentives can encourage it, just so long as actors do not share data only when they feel like there is some benefit to them when doing it. 

Ms Sarah Wynn-Williams, Director of Global Public Policy at Facebook, said there are four key barriers to improving connectivity: availability, affordability, relevance, and readiness. She said that when we talk about connectivity, it means many different things to many different people. Wynn-Williams said that since the global financial crisis, more than half of the G20 countries have cut their investment in connectivity infrastructure. She also said that Facebook is using artificial intelligence to ‘get great data on populations and to map that back to connectivity’. A question to think about: how we can use emerging technologies to improve data?

Mr Michael Nelson, Head of Global Public Policy for Cloudflare, said his organisation holds a huge amount of data which is used to block malicious hacking, and ‘would love to share some of our data in a way that won’t set off alarm bells among the privacy community.’ He explained that Cloudflare holds data on which countries have state-of-the-art encryption, which ones are using old, outdated operating systems, and where pirated software is. He said that Cloudflare’s core competency is in disposing of data very quickly, and that they want to do that. However, he acknowledged that ‘we have to show that we’re not abusing the data that we’re collecting.’

Mr Raúl Echeberría, Vice President, Global Engagement, Internet Society, said that relevant local content is important in order to get more people online, but local content must be available in local languages. ‘Everyone thinks that everyone in Guatemala speaks Spanish, but there are probably 20% in the country that are not fluent in Spanish,’ said Echeberría. ‘So if we don’t provide or make available contents in their languages, we are resigning to that population not being connected, because there is nothing there for them.’

Mr Indrajit Banerjee, Director of the Knowledge Societies Division of the Communication and Information Sector of UNESCO, said that millions of people who have physical connectivity do not go online. He said we must understand why they do not go online if we wish to connect the next billion people. ‘Whenever there is a strong value proposition,’ Banerjee said, ‘value of innovation is rapid.’

Ms Karen McCabe, Senior Director, Technology Policy and International Affairs, IEEE, said that in order to build on the value of the Internet, so that people want to get online, there needs to be an element of trust. A way to do this is to keep focus human-centred and to engage with local communities. ‘We can come up with a lot of ideas and concepts, but it needs to be specific to that community,’ said McCabe. ‘Only that community really knows what’s going to work, what its pain points are, what its aspirations are.’

Mr Manu Bhardwaj, Senior Advisor at Global Connect, said ‘we are told how important a multistakeholder approach is to solving difficult challenges on Internet policy’, but the people from governments who participate in discussions are not those with the knowledge to actually solve the issues. ‘For us to actually drive discussions forward, we have to strengthen them by including all the stakeholders in the conversation.’

A representative from the Alliance for Affordable Internet said, ‘enough with the pilot projects [to connect the unconnected], we need to start scaling them.’

Mr Vinton Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, spoke of the Internet’s biological character. He said the Internet is kind of like an organism in that it is made up of a lot of parts. ‘It lives in an environment that keeps changing, and the way that organisms survive is that they adopt to changing conditions,’ said Cerf. He also said that if our desire is that we want another 3 billion people to be connected to the Internet, we have to ask each of them, ‘Are you ready to be connected?’. If we install the equipment and they do not know how to use it, you do not have things in the right language, they do not have electricity, they may not be ready to become connected. The key question, Cerf said, is ‘making sure whatever needs to be ready, is ready’ for the objective that we are looking to accomplish. He concluded by commenting that some people over-hype the multistakeholder model of Internet governance. ‘Not everyone in the whole world needs to be involved in every action that we take,’ said Cerf.

by Ayden Férdeline, Internet Society UK