Open source: A key enabler on the path to the next billion

7 Dec 2016 16:00h - 17:30h

Event report

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

Free/Open Source Software, FOSS – link.

This is the fourth workshop on Open Source in different IGF meetings. The session started with opening remarks from organiser, Mr Satish Babu, Chair, APRALO, ICANN, long time advocate of free/open source software. He pointed out that the next billions we are looking to connect will not be on the same socio-economic level of current users, and that mobile technology will be the main penetration point. He added that the primary factors for connecting the next billion are infrastructure, building policy coherence, and technology. Babu added that open source can help in many fields and invited speakers to give a different approaches and angles.

The first speaker, Ms Gunela Astbrink, ICT Policy Advisor and Researcher, Internet Society, gave an overview of the implementation of free open source software in the field of ICT accessibility for people with disabilities. Overall conditions are improving for accessibility for persons with disabilities, pushed in some cases by public procurement in ICT. Things are moving forward in the right direction, but the issue of affordability of solutions was raised, as many of the persons with disabilities have low incomes, or live in poverty. Under these circumstances, open source software solutions can bring significant change.

Astbrink pointed out the case of NonVisual Desktop Access (NDVA), screen reader software for blind people developed on Linux, with a Windows version available. Similar proprietary software can cost up to US$1000. Having in mind that NVDA software is available in 43 languages and is completely free of cost, marked it as an bright example in the field, and a real help for people with disabilities. Since FOSS is developed and maintained on a voluntary and individual basis, Astbrink suggested there is a need for a place for the community to share the information about things that are in the process of development, to learn from each other, and hopefully not duplicate the efforts.  

Mr Olivier Crépin-Leblond, Senior Volunteer Board Member at ICANN, ISOC and other organisations, noted how big systems and big solutions in proprietary software are also a big risk for undeveloped countries. Licences for software can be expensive, and also requires credit cards (for payment) which are not commonly used in the global south. There is a need for certified open source software, he added, in order to know what are you downloading. Special attention needs to pait to which open source software is safe to use.  

Mr Glenn McKnight, Chair, NARALO, ICANN, talked about open hardware and humanitarian applications. He reflected that three SDG issues are quite important: first, reliable electricity, which is essential for building large scale networks such as meshed networks. Second, to come up with cost-effective communication tools, which include mesh networks and point-to-point systems. Third, was patient records or individual records in war-torn areas. He explained a project with solar panels in a suitcase, that could be loaded on an airplane and taken to different maternity wards in Africa where electrical power was off. McKnight shed some light on the IEEE open education process, sharing in particular how to build an off-the-grid solar system.

Mr Dev Anand Teelucksingh, LACRALO Secretariat, ICANN, talked about his creation of a collection of tested and trustworthy open source software that can be found online. It was developed from the need to help the community in choosing the appropriate free/open source software. It is continuously updated with the help of the community. He also stressed the importance of education in the field of security and privacy and called for the broader adoption of encryption in FOSS.

Mr Arjun Jayakumar, Counsel, Software Freedom Law Center, reflected on connecting the next billion.  He added that protocols need to be open in a spirit of open Internet protocols. We have already learned, through numerous years of experience, that maximum participation offers a better resource for buildingpolicy. He added that in order to achieve the goal of connecting the next billion, we need to convince people to trust technology. He noted that the use of open source software is a great way to accomplish this goal.

Ms Bishakha Datta, Co-founder and Director, Point of View, addressed the issue of open knowledge as being quite important in this discussion. Multilingualism is another important part. Since web 2.0 there has been talk of local content but little has been done in bringing connectivity to rural and undeveloped areas to create specific local content. She also pointed out a clear gender gap in the open knowledge movement, stating that only 9% of all Wikimedia contributors are female.

In a follow up discussion, some concerns were raised that the membership of open source societies is aging, since the new generation mostly works on application level development. It was also mentioned that the visual/esthetic appearance of FOSS should be improved, and Android was mentioned as a bright example of an easy and intuitive open source software design.

In the session wrap-up. Babu pointed out that openness has influenced many other areas such as open data, open formats, open knowledge, open access publishing, and others. He also noted a great shift in large Internet companies (Microsoft, for example), which are moving toward open source for their own reasons. Android is also seen as one of the flagships and future leaders toward massive open source adoption. In Babu’s words there are many more positive factors in the area of free/open source software.

by Arvin Kamberi