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The concluding session was intended to discuss and summarise all the different insights, ideas, and experiences the High-level Internet Governance Exchange on digital inclusion had had over the week.
One question that was brought up at the start was the difference between access and accessibility. As one participant from Pakistan explained, access refers to having the infrastructure that connects people to the Internet; while accessibility refers to using and exploiting the benefits of having that access. As examples, visually impaired people can have little use of the Internet if the content is not adjusted for screen readers, or many people cannot benefit from the knowledge found on the Internet if it is not in their native language, and so on. The digital divide continues to be a major problem, in spite of the development of Internet infrastructure globally.
Mr Paul Rowney (Director, AfICTA) pointed out to how the digital divide is especially observable when comparing the Global South to the Global North in terms of digital policy and digital literacy. An important tool to help in closing the gaps can be the further development of community networks, which in many parts of the world are still being held back due to the regulators’ not understanding what such networks really are, and how to enable them to thrive. The lack of a regulatory framework means that many community networks still work in the grey area which further enforces the divide between the digitally literate and the digitally illiterate. Furthermore, even where a regulatory framework exists, it does not necessarily mean that it will be implemented in practice, which is another problem.
Education is another important aspect that may help foster social inclusion in the digital era, but what is important is the link between education and the workforce, which requires a paradigm shift, especially in the Global South where the educators have to work more closely with the private sector, by teaching people the digital skills that will enable them to reap the benefits of the Internet and other digital technologies.
Ms Susan Chalmer (US Department of Commerce) moved on to the question of local content and multilingualism as the most visible forms of what is called ‘universal acceptance’ which is a crucial aspect of digital inclusion. Universal acceptance means that all domain names or email addresses. regardless of what script they use, are accepted by software. For Internet users who use different scripts, this poses a barrier. Also, the local content will be more relevant to many communities therefore increasing the demand for Internet access and adoption. However, private sector actors have lower incentive to push for universal acceptance which is why we need rules, regulations, and governance.
The session ended with suggestions on how to improve workshops for the future IGFs in order to make sure they bring multiple stakeholders who deal and experience intersectional and interdisciplinary aspects of the same topics and issues.
By Andrej Škrinjarić