Access

Updates

The Wikimedia Foundation decided to discontinue its Wikipedia Zero programme this year. The programme, launched in 2012, saw Wikimedia partnering with 97 mobile operators in 72 countries around the world to provide free access to Wikipedia on mobile devices to more than 800 million people. Current partnerships with mobile operators will expire throughout the year, and no new partnerships will be concluded. According to the foundation, there has been 'a significant drop off in adoption and interest' in the programme since 2016, which could have been caused by changes in mobile data costs. Wikipedia Zero was criticised by some for being against net neutrality principles, although the Foundation argued that this was not the case.

Major European telecoms companies are providing lower levels of digital rights such as transparency and consumer protections to countries in Africa than in European markets, according to Slate's comment on a new study, Droits Numeriques en Afrique Subsaharienne: Analyses des Pratiques D'Orange au Senegal et Safaricom au Kenya (in French), by Internet Sans Frontières (Internet Without Borders). Daniel Finnan of RFI notes that the research report assesses respect for freedom of expression and privacy, 'concluding that users in Europe are treated differently to those in sub-Saharan Africa'. Finnan includes an interview Julie Owono, Executive Director of Internet without Borders, which details specific information from the study about how Safaricom and Orange operate differently in Europe than they do in Africa. The interview covers points about terms of service, Internet shutdowns, and privacy considerations, among others.

The Moscow Times reports that online freedom in Russia declined in 2017. International human rights group Agora's recent report (news story in Russian) recorded over 115 000 cases of Internet censorship. It notes that 110 000 of these cases involved websites, with an average of 244 web pages being blocked each day during 2017. 6 Signs There’s No Such Thing as Internet Freedom in Russia specifies six ways censorship trends can be seen. For example, in spite of strong growth in the Russian online population, Internet freedom is declining. In 2017 Freedom House ranked Russia 6.6 out of 7 (with 7 being the least free) in Internet Freedom. In a different emphasis on the same report, VOA News highlights that 'Russia sentenced 43 people to jail over online posts last year' underlining the report's warning that 'the country is slowly criminalizing internet use as the security service tightens its grip.'

Pages

Internet access is growing rapidly, yet large groups of people remain unconnected to the Internet. As of 2015, about 43% of people had access to the Internet (in developing countries only 34%). Access to ICTs is part of the Sustainable Development Agenda, which commits to ‘significantly increase access to ICTs and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020’ (Goal 9.c).

Internet interconnection and Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

The Internet consists of thousands of networks. In order to exchange data between users, these networks need to connect with one another. Internet access therefore depends on reliable, efficient and cost-effective interconnections between networks. The interconnections are achieved by voluntary and independently negotiated agreements between network operators.

To connect to Internet networks, users and companies pay Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for Internet access and services. Typically ISPs have to cover the following expenses from the fees collected:

  • Cost of telecommunication expenses and Internet bandwidth to the next major Internet hub.
  • Cost of IP addresses obtained from regional Internet registries (RIRs) or local Internet registries (LIRs). An IP address is needed by a device to access the Internet.
  • Cost of equipment, software, and maintenance of their installations.

Increasingly, the Internet access business is complicated by regulatory requirements of governments such as data-retention. More regulation requires more expenses which could be either passed to Internet users through subscription or buffered by reduced profit for the ISPs.

Internet exchange points (IXPs)

One way in which access can be improved is the introduction of Internet exchange points (IXPs). IXPs are usually established to keep Internet traffic within smaller communities (e.g. city, region, country), avoiding unnecessary routing over remote geographical locations. As IXPs keep local Internet traffic within the country, the usage and costs of international bandwidth can be reduced, which makes access more affordable. Still, many developing countries do not have IXPs, which means that a considerable part of Internet traffic is routed through another country. Various initiatives seek to establish IXPs in developing countries.

Universal access

Universal access is a frequently mentioned concept in relation to the development debate. Although it is agreed to be the cornerstone of any digital development policy, differing perceptions and conceptions of the nature and scope of policies aiming at universal access remain. The question of universal access at the global level remains largely an open issue, and depends mainly on the readiness of developed countries to invest in the realisation of this goal, as well as on policy environment in developing countries. Still, the importance of universal access is agreed on in many international documents, such as the WSIS+10 Outcome Document.

Recently, many initiatives have formed, often through public-private partnerships, to increase Internet access. These initiatives either focus on the traditional means of constructing cables or refer to less traditional methods, such as building Internet-disseminating satellites and balloons.

Quality of access

The basic ability to connect to the Internet is a precondition for access. Still, the definition of access is believed by some to be significantly broader and should take into account the quality of access. The WSIS+10 Outcome Document pleads in this regard for ‘an evolving understanding of what constitutes access, emphasizing the quality of that access. We acknowledge that speed, stability, affordability, language, local content and accessibility for persons with disabilities are now core elements of quality’.

A related issue is zero-rating; the provision of free-of-charge, ‘basic’ Internet services to end users. Several major service providers have partnered with mobile network operators to deliver these low-data-usage versions of services. Although zero-rating practices are able to guarantee affordable access, opponents of zero-rating claim that it requires discrimination among online content and that it violates the fundamental principles of net neutrality. Furthermore, it can raise development concerns, since it gives preferential treatment to dominant web services compared to local competitors.

Development and economic issues

Other development and economic issues affect access. Among them is the question of redistribution of revenue generated by the Internet. On one hand, telecommunication operators aim for higher income, arguing that they need to invest in the upgrading of the telecommunication infrastructure. On the other, content companies - the main beneficiaries of the Internet boom - argue that access providers already charge end users for Internet access. A related issue concerns over-the-top services: in several of countries, national regulators are faced with the question of how to regulate these services, amid increasing pressure by operators. The economic model of connectivity has also been challenged. Since the Internet model places the burden on one end, many developing countries have been complaining about the unfavourable economic conditions of the Internet economy. These issues are described in more detail in other sections on development and economic issues.

Events

Actors

(WEF)

Within the framework of its Digital Economy and Society initiative, WEF has launched the

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Within the framework of its Digital Economy and Society initiative, WEF has launched the Internet for All project, aimed at bringing online tens of millions of Internet users by the end of 2019, initially through programmes targeted at the Northern Corridor in Africa, Argentina, and India. In addition to this project, WEF also undertakes research on Internet-access-related issues. One notable example is the annual Global Information Technology Report and the related Networked Readiness Index, which measures, among others, the rates of Internet deployment worldwide. Internet access and the digital divide are also addressed in the framework of various WEF initiatives such as its annual meetings and regional events.

(ITU, UIT)
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The ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) develops international standards (called recommendations) covering information and communications technologies. Standards are developed on a consensus-based approach, by study groups composed of representatives of ITU members (both member states and companies). These groups focus on a wide range of topics: operational issues, economic and policy issues, broadband networks, Internet protocol based networks, future networks and cloud computing, multimedia, security, the Internet of Things and smart cities, and performance and quality of service. The World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA), held every four years, defines the next period of study for the ITU-T.

(OECD)

Convergence is one of the digital policy issues that the OECD is paying attention to, especially in relation t

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Convergence is one of the digital policy issues that the OECD is paying attention to, especially in relation to the challenges this phenomenon brings on traditional markets, and the need for adequate policy and regulatory frameworks to address them. In 2008, the organisation issued a set of policy guidelines for regulators to take into account when addressing challenges posed by convergence. In 2016, a report issued in preparation for the OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy included new recommendations for policy-makers. Digital convergence issues have been on the agenda of OECD Ministerial meetings since 2008, and are also tackled in the regular OECD Digital Economy Outlook report.

(CSTD)

The CSTD reviews progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the WSIS outcomes at the regional and

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The CSTD reviews progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the WSIS outcomes at the regional and international level, and it prepares draft resolutions for the UN Economic and Social Council. These draft resolutions tackle issues ranging from access to information and communication technologies (ICT) and Internet, to  the use of ICTs for early warning and mitigating climate change. At its annual sessions and inter-sessional panels, the Commission also addresses development-related themes such as: science, technology, and innovation for sustainable cities and communities; ICT for inclusive social and economic development; digital development; Internet broadband for inclusive societies; and smart cities and infrastructure.

(ISOC)

The Internet Society approaches net neutrality largely from a user-centric perspective, and its work in this a

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The Internet Society approaches net neutrality largely from a user-centric perspective, and its work in this area focuses, among others, on: allowing freedom of expression, supporting user choice, and preventing discrimination. It also collaborates with businesses to develop solutions on issues such as network traffic management, pricing, and business models. Net neutrality also falls within the scope of the Internet Society’s research and capacity development activities. The organisation has produced several policy papers and other publications touching on aspects such as open inter-networking and zero rating. Its policy brief tutorial on net neutrality provides an overview of the key considerations, challenges, and guiding principles of net neutrality.

(A4AI)

A4AI promotes affordable Internet access in developing countries through three strands.

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A4AI promotes affordable Internet access in developing countries through three strands. First, advocating A4AI policy and regulatory good practices and encouraging different stakeholders to adopt evidence-based ICT policy at the heart of their agendas. Second, conducting and promoting policy and research including: an affordability report which examines policy frameworks that support the affordability and accessibility of the Internet; thematic case studies and country case studies; and a knowledge bank which highlights high-quality research on affordability-related matters produced by members and other leading organisations. Third, working on the ground to build national multistakeholder coalitions to develop solutions tailored to local realities.

Instruments

Judgements

Case of Barbulescu v Romania - European Court of Human Rights (2016)

Resolutions & Declarations

IPU Resolution on the Contribution of new information and communication technologies to good governance, the improvement of parliamentary democracy and the management of globalization (2003)

Recommendations

Other Instruments

Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (WSIS) (2005)

Resources

Articles

Bridging the Digital Divide in the EU (2015)

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Papers

Piloting the use of Deliberative Polling for Multistakeholder Internet Governance

Reports

ICT Facts and Figures 2017 (2017)
Global Information Technology Report 2016 (2016)
Enabling Growth and Innovation in the Digital Economy (2016)
One Internet (2016)
Advancing Digital Societies in Asia (2016)
UNCTAD B2C E-commerce Index 2016 (2016)
The Economic Impact of Rural Broadband (2016)
Internet for All: A Framework for Accelerating Internet Access and Adoption (2016)
A Pre-Feasibility Study on the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway in the ASEAN Sub-region: Conceptualization, International Traffic & Quality Analysis, Network Topology Design and Implementation Model (2016)
The Digital Economy & Society Index (DESI) 2016 (2016)
State of Connectivity 2015: A Report on Global Internet Access (2016)
Digital Inclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean (2016)
Closing the Coverage Gap: Digital Inclusion in Latin America (2016)
Smartphone Ownership and Internet Usage continues to climb in Emerging Economies (2016)
A New Regulatory Framework for the Digital Ecosystem (2016)
Proliferation of Indian Languages on Internet (2016)
2016 Digital yearbook (2016)
Connectivity: Broadband Market Developments in the EU (2016)
NI Trend Watch 2016 (2015)
Measuring the Information Society 2015 (2015)
The 2015 BCG e-Intensity Index (2015)
UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030 (2015)
Freedom on the Net 2015 (2015)
The Mobile Economy - Arab States 2015 (2015)
Women's Rights Online: Translating Access into Empowerment (2015)
Mobile for Development Impact (2015)
Global Internet Report 2015 (2015)
The Global Information Technology Report 2015: ICTs for Inclusive Growth (2015)
Local World - Content for the Next Wave of Growth (2014)
Renewing the Knowledge Societies Vision for Peace and Sustainable Development (2013)
The Relationship between Local Content, Internet Development and Access Prices (2013)
Smart Policies to Close the Digital Divide: Best Practices from Around the World (2012)

GIP event reports

High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (2017)
At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) and Regional Leaders Wrap Up – Part 1 (2017)
Keynote Speech at EuroDIG 2017 – Göran Marby, ICANN (2017)
Community Connectivity – Empowering the Unconnected (2017)
Special Session on Assessing eTrade Readiness of the Least Developed Countries (2017)
Report for ITU CWG-Internet - 4th Physical Open Consultation Meeting (2017)

Other resources

The Digital Economy & Society Index (2016)
Action Plan to Close the Digital Gender Gap (2015)

Processes

Session reports

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12th IGF 2017

WTO Public Forum 2017

WSIS Forum 2017

IGF 2016

WTO Public Forum 2016

WSIS Forum 2016

WSIS10HL

IGF 2015

 

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