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[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]

High level facilitator of the session, Ms Cristina Valdés Argüelles, Geneva international model of the United Nations, started by giving the background and objectives of the session. She stressed the importance of the objectives by mentioning that ‘individuals, communities, societies, and organisations should benefit from inclusive access to information and knowledge.’

Mr Boyan Radoykov, chief of section, Section for universal access and preservation at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) presented the work that UNESCO encompasses to bridge the digital divide. He mentioned that the discussion and the outcome of this session would be ‘very vital’ and complementary to the work UNESCO is currently performing. Terming UNESCO as, ‘the leading agency working towards providing access to information and knowledge to people with disabilities,’, he announced the success of the recently concluded festival for artists with disabilities, in Singapore. He also suggested that the various stakeholders should work together to ensure that ‘people who speak different languages have equal access to the knowledge available in cyberspace’. In that regard, he quoted the work that UNESCO started in 2003 through the adoption of a normative instrument titled, ‘Recommendations concerning the promotion and use of multilingualism and universal access to cyberspace’.

Ms Anusha Rahman Ahmad Khan, minister for information technology and telecommunication in Pakistan, talked about the work done by the government of Pakistan to help bridge the digital divide within the nation. She presented the case highlighting the achievements of the government from both the demand and supply sides of the information and communication technology infrastructure. She also raised concerns on the siphoning off from ICT budgets to address initiatives that are ‘populist’, and ‘higher on the political agenda’. She encouraged government representatives to consider ICT implementation as ‘a long-term enabler for the sustainable development goals.’ She gave examples of how her government is facilitating incubation centres for promoting girls in technology, and the utilisation of a universal service fund to provide 3G access to more than 100 million people within the country.

Answering a question from the facilitator on the effectiveness of Colombian public policy for the ICT sector, Mr Juan Sebastián Rozo, vice minister of connectivity and digitalisation, Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications, Colombia, responded by presenting examples from his country. He quoted utilisation of ‘TV white space by the coffee growers and exporters; as a key achievement of this policy. He also presented statistics on how the policy has helped the government increase the penetration of fibre optic within the country from 2 million subscribers in 2010, to 29 million subscribers in 2018.

Mr Paul Smith Lomas, CEO of Practical Action, outlined his organisation’s urge to work directly with the community to achieve the free flow of information and knowledge. He termed the community as ‘the important last mile consumer’ of their services. At the same time, he agreed that there is no ‘silver bullet’ to the problem of the digital divide, and suggested the use of channels such as podcasts, call centres, awareness training, and media campaigns to address the challenges. He mentioned that the key to a programme’s success is its ‘responsiveness to the stakeholder’s requirements,’ along with ‘its capability to be taken to scale’ and ‘Being sustainable in the longer run.’

By Mohit Saraswat