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The panel focused on the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and how they relate to the Internet. It started with paraphrasing the theme of this year’s IGF, One world, one net, one vision, in terms of a call to action for an Internet that should be able to connect everybody in the world.
Ms Nnenna Nwakanma (Chief Web Advocate at the World Wide Web Foundation) asked everyone to rethink their concept of the Internet and connectivity. She stated that the greatest value of meaningful access is freedom. Freedom from digital non-existence. Freedom from digital colonialism where marginalised people sell their digital souls, exchanging their data for connectivity. Freedom from financial exclusion in order to be able to send and receive money. Freedom from bad governance so that people can raise their voices and be heard. How can you have meaningful connectivity without freedom of speech? Nwakanma noted that attacking the points that give connectivity its meaning will be helpful and cited the Contract for the Web, which was launched during this year’s IGF. Each of the contract’s nine principles have action points that once taken on-board, will result not just in connectivity for the other 50%, but meaningful connectivity that will enable actual freedom, and can bring people out of poverty. Connectivity is not a luxury, but a right, including affordable electricity. Affordable access is crucial, which is where the policy framework needs to start from. By stepping out of cities, fixing targets and reaching them, we can ensure 100% coverage. And education should be mandatory, even for governments.
Economic inequality was also raised by Ms Pinky Kekana (Deputy Minister of Communications, South Africa). The UN has agreed with developed countries that at least 0.7% of their Gross National Income should be used to assist developing countries. But how much of that has been done? Kekana acknowledged that this needs to be evaluated by developing countries to measure and monitor the implementation of this process in order to fulfil the sustainable development (SDG) agenda.
Mr John Denton (Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC)) cast light on how the issue of developed versus developing countries is commonly observed and shared insights about a deep misunderstanding on the implementation level. The Addis Ababa Declaration was quite explicit about how to finance and support the SDGs, i.e., by investing in infrastructure. On one level, it created an environment for investment in developing countries and highlighted the necessity to invest for the long term. But the way the financial market operates, involving high risk, prevents access to the capital required. It becomes extremely expensive and thus forms a misalignment. Another issue is the preconceptions and the actual understanding of the complexity of the private sector, something he noted is often a challenge in these conversations. The private sector is not composed of lots of big companies. Rather, the dominant element of the private sector (~95%) are the small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro-enterprises. In Denton’s opinion, a healthy private sector is key for development. Maintenance of the moratorium on tariffs, and standing against tariffs on digital downloads is critical for the capacity for innovation in developing countries. ‘Don't tax, don't put tariffs, don't break the Internet’, he concluded.
Other issues raised during the session included increasing the number of - and conditions for - female entrepreneurs, providing access to financial markets, and highlighting the need for support from mentors to share experiences and get capable women to move forward. If you give women an opportunity, they will use and develop it. Panellists agreed that there are still not enough female-run businesses in the world today (especially in the ICT sector) .
Finally, safety and trust were mentioned by Ms Jutta Croll (Chairwoman of the board of Stiftung Digitale Chancen) as two pillars that enable digital inclusion, in terms of business development, Internet penetration, and meaningful connectivity. Would it be worth bringing access to the Internet to the next billion users if they do not trust it and feel safe when using it?
By Darija Medić