WSIS Forum 2016 – Moderated high-level policy session

4 May 2016 09:00h - 12:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the WSIS Forum 2016]

The session was divided into four sections that broadly discussed and gathered stakeholder responses on issues affecting the WSIS Action Item and the 2030 Agenda. The stakeholders represented various governmental, public, private, technical, and non-governmental organisations. The following issues were discussed:

  • There is a digital divide among the global information society and community. With technological advancement, the digital divide seems to be widening. What are policymakers across the world doing to bridge this divide?
  • How can universal access to the Internet be guaranteed for community members? What does an enabling environment mean to the various stakeholders? What are the steps various stakeholders are taking in order to ensure that access to the Internet is both available and affordable to the community?
  • Can basic human rights for community members be protected both offline as well as online? What steps are being taken by policymakers to ensure that community members experience uniform rights both online and offline?
  • How is the concept of ICT for Development helping to develop the knowledge society? How is it aligned to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?

The first session on WSIS Action Lines and the 2030 Agenda (Session One), facilitated by Dr Tomasz Janowski (United Nations University Operating Unit on Policy-Driven Electronic Governance (UNU-EGOV)) asked for responses on these issues from various government representatives from Guinea Bissau, Russia, and others. Mr Nikolay Nikiforov (Minister, Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation) provided statistics on Internet penetration within Russia. Nikiforov quoted the mandate from the presidential committee to increase the use of e-government services within the country from the current 40% to a target of 70% by 2018. Mr Shola Taylor (Head of Organization, Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization) provided examples from the member states on use cases of Internet applications such as for voting, agriculture, trade, and commerce. Dr Jovan Kurbalija (Director, DiploFoundation, and Head of the Geneva Internet Platform) shared his thoughts on the challenges faced by diplomats while balancing transparency and discretion. Quoting the example of recent diplomatic developments such as US-Cuban trade relations and the US-Iran nuclear deal, Kurbalija mentioned said that ‘these developments would have been difficult to achieve with Twitter and Camera, as part of diplomatic discussion.’

The second session, also on WSIS Action Lines and the 2030 Agenda (Session Three), discussed the challenges various stakeholders perceived in achieving the 2030 Agenda. Facilitated by Ms Karen McCabe (Senior Director of Technology Policy and International Affairs, IEEE, USA), various governments were represented: Lao P.D.R (H.E. Hiem Phommachanh, Minister of Post and Telecommunications) and Turkey (Mr Ömer Fatih Sayan, Head of  the Information and Communication Technologies Authority).  When asked how stakeholders add to the collective efforts to achieve the 2030 agenda, Phommachanh responded: ‘I think it’s really going to have to be a question of participation,’ a thought with which the panellists broadly concurred.

The session on Bridging Digital Divides (Session Five) dove deep into the issue of bridging the digital divide. The facilitator for the session Ms Chinmayi Arun (Executive Director, Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University Delhi, India) gathered responses on the state of the digital divide in the respective constituencies. The panel consisted of representatives from governments from Ethiopia, Japan, and Gabon. When asked about the Ethiopian government’s plans to bridge the digital divide, Dr Debretsion Gebremichael Measho (Minister, Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, Ethiopia) responded that the issue is not only technical; it is also about poverty allegation. To address the digital divide, we also need to address poverty at the same time.

The session on an Enabling Environment (Session Seven) discussed the enabling environment action line of the 2030 Agenda. Ms Anriette Esterhuysen (Executive Director of the Association for Progressive Communications, APC, South Africa) facilitated the session and asked whether the enabling environment for an effective information society is both inclusive and sustainable. The panel’s private sector representative, Mr Marc Vancoppenolle (Global Head of Nokia Government Relations), emphasised the importance of unpinning the need from a physical infrastructure: ‘The fact is that not everyone is connected. We need to make sure that we get into an enabling environment to enable investment in infrastructure, because that is the basis of everything.’

by Mohit Saraswat