High-level dialogue: 15 Years of the implementation of WSIS (ITU)

9 Sep 2020 13:00h - 14:15h

Event report

The session discussed how governments and partners have made use of ICTs in the past fifteen years. It also brought into light the challenges that countries will still face in terms of access and inclusion.

Mr Yushi Torigoe (Chief, Strategic Planning and Membership Department, ITU) clarified that since the inception of WSIS, it has advanced the concept of the information and knowledge society. It has identified emerging trends and introduced new topics to the community. In fifteen years, the concept of an information and knowledge society has become a reality across the world. Currently, 3.6 billion people have access to and benefit from the Internet. However, the Internet is still not part of the lives of many people; there remains a need to connect the unconnected.

Mr Mario Maniewicz (Director of the Radiocommunication Bureau, ITU) stressed that in 2005, Internet access to homes was provided mostly by the telephone network, either through an analogue dial-up connection or through a digital subscriber line. Cable modems were still new and fibre and mobile broadband connections were just beginning. In fact, in 2005 only 220 million fixed broadband subscriptions existed, of which most of them, some 67 percent, were in the developed world; moreover, 3G was only starting to be deployed. From 2005 to the present date, broadband connections and mobile broadband connections such as 3G and 4G increased twenty-three times. Today there are over 6.3 billion acting mobile broadband subscriptions and over 53 percent of the world’s population has access to the Internet. With the COVID-19 crisis, the need to be connected has been enhanced more than ever before. According to the World Bank, 294 billion emails and 65 billion WhatsApp messages are sent daily; 5 billion searches and the equivalent of 200 million DVDs of data are created daily. These figures show the increasing expansion of ICTs and the great progress of the multistakeholder model of the WSIS action lines.

International cooperation is vital in the implementation of the WSIS plan of action. Just recently, at the end of 2019, all stakeholders gathered in Egypt during the World Radiocommunication Conference to revise the regulations. The conference improved and updated the international treaty that governs the use of radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits. This regulatory framework ensures that radiocommunication services can coexist and provide the stability required to attract investment and enable the growth of telecommunications and ICTs. Even with a recognition of the progress in cooperation of the last fifteen years, the ITU is still working to ensure all people are connected, to reduce the digital divide, to empower women and girls, and to promote access to e-learning, e-employment and e-health. Secondly, the ITU is ensuring that industries are connected, and is enabling agriculture, e-business and the development of industry. Finally, the ITU ensures that ICTs are used to sustain the planet, enabling the e-environment.

H.E. Ms Katrina Naut (Ambassador, Permanent Representative, Mission of the Dominican Republic, Geneva) noticed that the Dominican Republic extensively exports tourism services. Currently, over 500,000 people depend on tourism directly; as well, 80 percent of the GDP is derived from the tourism sector. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN Economic Commission is forecasting a reduction in tourism revenue of 62 percent compared to last year, nearly 150 million dollars less every month. The Dominican Republic’s vulnerability in the face of natural disaster, such as pandemics, highlights the importance of building better once the COVID-19 crisis passes. The authorities understand how important it is to make services more sophisticated and knowledge-based. For this reason, the country is training a new generation of ICT-enabled Dominican programmers, paralegals, and software developers. The government has established the Technological Institute of The Americas. Recently, Dominican students won first place at the Human Exploration Challenge, a contest organised by NASA in which students were challenged to design a security system for a space exploration vehicle. Similarly, students from the Technological Institute of The Americas won first place at an ICT competition 2018 that took place in China.

H.E. Ms Ursula Owusu-Ekuful (Minister, Ministry of Communications, Ghana) stressed that Ghana remains committed to the achievement of the goals of WSIS, which are linked to the SDGs. To face the COVID-19 crisis, Ghana has provided additional spectrum to assist telecom service providers dealing with the surge in the use of digital platforms. Ghana has introduced the policy of extended allocation for free to the telecommunication networks to provide adequate capacity for people to study and work from home. Academic institutions have used improved Internet capacity to continue their academic work and most examinations are done virtually. Students in secondary schools are still benefiting from a number of online classes delivered through the medium of television. As an outcome of collaboration between ICT and education sectors and private broadcasting agencies, over one hundred educational sites, e-learning platforms and libraries were also offered to the public at no cost. The government had to institute an online virtual working platform for public sector workers to work virtually. It has also enabled the first tracking app in Africa to allow individuals to report their symptoms and to identify hotspots.

H.E. Mr Mohsen Baharvand (Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs, Iran) underlined that the WSIS has accomplished many achievements, including the enhancement of cooperation between different stakeholders. However, some of the goals of the WSIS were more weakly met, such as overcoming the digital divide in undeveloped countries. Moreover, Baharvand explains that some issues related to the governance of ICT and human rights cannot be resolved at an international level, but, rather, they might be restricted and governed by sovereign countries due to ideological gaps between countries. Finally, a need remains to enhance south-south cooperation since, in the near future, cooperation between all countries of the globe seems unlikely.

Mr Thomas Schneider (Ambassador and Director of International Affairs Swiss Federal Office of Communication) confirmed that the Swiss commitment and the WSIS follow-up and implementation is built on the tradition of a participatory, bottom-up political system that couples freedom and self-determination with responsible and respectful cultural and political diversity. In the past months, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that access to the Internet is still not a given, even in developed countries like Switzerland; some families had to be connected to the Internet before their children could participate in home schooling during the coronavirus lockdown. Making sure that everyone has access is necessary, but it is not sufficient. People also need to be empowered to use these new technologies safely and efficiently.

Dr Daniela Brönstrup (Deputy Director General for Digital and Innovation Policy German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, Germany) understands that the main value of the WSIS is to bring decision makers together. Moreover, the private sector’s participation has had top representatives of major international companies at the WSIS. Since the beginning, it is not only the number of participants that is impressive, but also the diversity of topics and events. Brönstrup suggested that if the next forum takes place online, it should be shortened. This would enhance discussions between the participants. Germany is ready to work to create new formats to contribute to the ITU mission of connecting the world.

Mr Jorge Chediek (Director and Envoy of the Secretary-General on South-South Cooperation United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) clarified that south-south cooperation was born as an expression of solidarity. However, for many years, it was not taken seriously. This century, with the holding of WSIS meetings, it has expanded dramatically in scope and volume. While the global south has the biggest challenges, it also has the biggest opportunity. Amongst the challenges, there is the problem of access. Most of the people who do not have access live in the developing world. Less than 20 percent of people in the least developed countries have access to the Internet.

Mr Peter Major (Chair, United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development) believes that many original challenges that were identified with the WSIS have taken new forms. These new forms include cybersecurity by governments and businesses that have been facing increasing threats. Also, the threat of misinformation or disinformation has grown. Data protection also needs to be addressed in a multistakeholder fashion because the transfer of personal data involves private businesses in multiple countries. And, finally, new challenges include the inclusion of women, older people, and impaired persons.

Dr Vladimir Minkin (Chair of the Council Working Group on WSIS & SDGs, Russian Federation) stressed that the topic of digital transformation is an integral driver of the process of achieving the SDGs. The future debates regarding access shall include the absolute necessity to provide the population with access to telecommunication, ICTs and broadband. It is extremely important to take political, regulatory, educational, technical, and social measures that will help to create an environment for the development of the relevant infrastructure required by digital services and digital skills for all social groups.

Ms Poornima Meegammana (Director of Youth Development, Shilpa Sayura Foundation) worried about the people that would be left behind when she looks at the 2030 agenda. They include those that are not connected and those who are using a local language, many of whom are girls and boys. The World Economic Forum estimates that 60 percent of the global GDP will be in digital format by 2022, and, hence, there is an urgent need to include girls and women in the Sustainable Development Goals. Girls and women need access to the Internet, to e-skills development, to local language content, and to constant engagement in ICT skills, education, employment, and the economy. Her argument is that to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, there is a need to strengthen girls’ ICT education. This shall be done by ensuring inclusion, localisation, empowerment, innovation, and, most importantly, by creating global partnerships.