Outcomes of the high-level policy sessions and conclusion of high-level track by chairman
WSIS Forum 2021 Final Week
17 May 2021 11:00h - 21 May 2021 22:00h
20 May 2021 13:00h - 14:00h
The session brought together the members of the high-level policy sessions to summarise the main trends, opportunities, challenges, and examples discussed in their panels. It was moderated by Ms Gitanjali Sah (Strategy and Policy Coordinator, ITU). Present also were Mr Houlin Zhao (Secretary-General, ITU) and Mr Maxim Parshin (Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media, Russian Federation) who was the WSIS Forum 2021 chairman.
The facilitators of each high-level policy session proceeded to take the floor.
Dr Olga Cavalli (Co-founder and Director, South School on Internet Governance) highlighted that enabling access and use of the internet remains a challenge if we are to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Despite the inequality of access, some inspiring initiatives have been created to enhance connectivity in developing countries. In Afghanistan, 6000 km of fibre is being installed to connect several provinces. In India, more than 600,000 villages have been given access to fibre cable. In Zimbabwe, the deployment of mobile services has increased and given connectivity to 1700 health centers.
Ms Eleanor Sarpong (Deputy Director and Policy Lead, Alliance for Affordable Internet) noted that emerging trends include digital inequalities involving gender, income, and geographic location. Private and public collaboration is crucial in bridging these divides. Non-affordable devices and lack of internet access are stealing from people the opportunity to have access and, therefore, perpetrating inequality. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected women disproportionately since, during the pandemic, 38% of women have been forced to leave the workforce.
Ms Amali de Silva-Mitchell (Coordinator, Dynamic Coalition on Data Driven Health Technologies) stressed that the dependence on affordable ICT to provide education, health, and agriculture-related services has increased during the pandemic. In the meeting, the panellists concluded that infrastructure costs cannot be led solely by the market; rather, public private partnerships are required. In this regard, Bhutan has initiated such partnerships to improve the national infrastructure. Indonesia has used satellite technology to connect islands. The ITU and WHO have created a partnership on AI for health ethics.
Mr William Njoroge (Head of Technology, OI Pejeta Conservancy) noted that among the emerging trends, more connectivity includes better networks with 5G and 6G technologies; and vast usage of AI in e-health and smart cities. The challenges remain: inadequate digital skills and acceleration of climate change.
Mr Nino Letteriello (President, DAMA Italy and EMEA) commented that trust in government in developed and developing countries is declining. Moreover, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a surge in the number of cyber-threats and cyber-incidents has been recorded. In addition to critical infrastructure assets and regulations, the risks involving the use of technologies that could lead to a sort of technophobia should not be forgotten. Examples of building confidence include a global culture of developed and implemented cybersecurity, in cooperation with multiple stakeholders and international expert bodies, that ensures the protection of data and privacy, while enhancing access and trade.
Ms Rachel Sibande (Senior Director, Digital Impact Alliance) noted that digitalisation has allowed small businesses in developing countries to expand operations. In addition, contactless payments and remote services have increased. However, small businesses in low economy countries still struggle to digitalise. To address these challenges, Cameroon has sought to support innovation and technology hubs to promote startups, building a secure and resilient electronic communication infrastructure. Jordan is keen on upskilling and reskilling of adults with digital skills.
Ms Meera Das (Project Lead, The Code to Change) shared that panel discussed issues on the gender and rural digital divide around the world, emphasising how to empower individuals and increase employment. They spoke of achievements and challenges, and affordability of broadband and broadcast services, particularly in TV and radio in underrepresented communities. Among the examples presented, significant are: (1) the rollout of 4G mobile services and public WIFI in Azerbaijan; (2) the empowerment of women, girls and marginalised communities with access to broadcast media and radio communication in local languages in Bangladesh; (3) the provision of internet access to indigenous communities in Costa Rica; (4) widespread fibre optic infrastructure offering adequate bandwidth capacity in Ghana; and (5) the introduction of telecom services for schools in rural areas in South Africa.
Dr Asan Gani Bin Abdul Muthalif (Associate Professor, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, Qatar University) noted that general trend concerns the consequences of and new opportunities created by the current global pandemic. The panellists emphasised creating a ‘robust’ knowledge society to face future challenges and having sustainable learning ecosystems at all educational levels. The panellists also stressed the importance of not leaving out children and senior citizens. The challenges encompass engaging vulnerable young children and senior citizens in ICT and identifying skills to bridge the digital divide, including technical literacy skills and competencies.
Ms Kristin Little (Senior Manager, IEEE) stated thatt panellists acknowledged the urgent need to resolve how to work together and coordinate countries, regions, technologies, and industries. In addition, the fast pace of technological innovation is challenging regulation. Innovative partnerships in Bahrain, Estonia, South Africa, Cabo Verde, and Mexico have been created to build trust. In particular, Bahrain has committed to a high-speed fibre optic network with services for all.
Ms Kirthi Jayakumar (Founder, the Gender Security Project) noted that panellists agreed that increased security challenges have arisen with the rapid rise in digital technology use and false information dissemination. Opportunities remain on establishing collaboration across sectors and communities and designing platforms with safety as a priority.
Mr Clifford Schmidt (Founder and Executive Director, AMPLIO) explained main challenges are related to inequality in access. Currently, some 300 million fewer women than men have internet access. In addition, women disproportionately face online harassment and technology-enabled violence. The creation of create safe spaces is a priority. In terms of opportunities, panellists acknowledged that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs should be offered to girls at an early age. To get more girls engaged in ICT, panellists have offered hackathons, coding clubs, and training in digital skills and cybersecurity.
Mr Parshin concluded the session by saying that the virtual format of the WSIS 2021 has become more inclusive. More than 12,000 individuals and 960 speakers from 170 countries participated in the event. In addition, Mr Zhao stressed the importance to reduce digital inequality and increase internet access to women in the following years.