[Read more session reports and live updates from the WSIS Forum 2016.]
Mr Nigel Hickson (Vice President, International Governmental Organisations (IGO) Engagement, ICANN) facilitated the first of four tracks (Session Nine), which focused on WSIS Action Lines and the 2030 Agenda, Financing for Development and Role of ICT. H.E. Mr David Khutsishvili (Deputy Minister, Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, Georgia) pointed out the speed at which Georgia is taking up ICTs and the rapid progress it is making in helping social, economic, and cultural development. It has introduced many e-services, during which the involvement of all stakeholders had great importance. In the same light, speeches by government representatives of Paraguay, the State of Palestine, Sudan, and Uruguay emphasised the importance of equal accessibility and the integration of ICTs in the educational system from a young age for achieving social aims. The goal of reaching equal opportunities and access to information for all is still far from reach. There is a strong need to have digital coverage in small villages for those who cannot go to school. Mr Norbert Bollow (Co-Convenor, Just Net Coalition) stated how the Internet is a powerful, empowering technology. He gave two examples: empowering citizen journalism and enabling many to escape the worst poverty when having access to information. As a final statement, Ms Doreen Bogdan (Chief of Strategic Planning and Membership Department, ITU) said the big goal and challenge is to have people connected in least developed countries by 2020. Governments need to prioritise connectivity by integrating it in infrastructure projects, by using universal service funds in a smart way, and by engaging in public-private partnerships.
The second track, Bridging Digital Divides, (Session Eleven) focused on the importance of access and equity to bridging digital divides, highlighting challenges and opportunities to eliminate them. Facilitator Dr Greg Shannon, PhD (Chief Scientist for the CERT Division, Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, Past Chair of the IEEE Cybersecurity Initiative, USA) started with one question for all speakers: How can ICTs bridge digital divides? H.E. Mr Marios Demetriades (Minister of Transport, Communications and Works, Cyprus) sent a message saying that broadband Internet should be a privilege for everybody. Continuing the access for all idea, H.E. Mr Etienne Sinbatambou (Minister of Technology, Communication and Innovation, Mauritius) offered a best practice example from Mauritius about free-of-charge Internet access points in each post office for unemployed people, orphans, widows, or disabled people, adding: ‘I wouldn’t call this empowerment, but e-powerment.’ In Vietnam and Pakistan, there are several programmes in place to help people in rural areas, women specifically, to use ICT and Internet services. Dr Salma Abbasi (Chairman and CEO eWorldwide Group) reminded us of the importance of including the elderly and people with special needs. She further added that for youth and future generations, it is important to think about much-needed jobs and to prevent a new Arab spring from happening by creating entrepreneurs and innovators.
Dr Cisse Kane (President, African Civil Society on the Information Society (ACSIS), Senegal) moderated the third session - Session Thirteen - which was also dedicated to Bridging Digital Divides. Government representatives from Guinea and India stated the challenges of the lack of infrastructure, equipment, and the inequality of the divides. H.E. Mr Moustapha Mamy Diaby (Ministre, Ministère des Postes, Télécommunications et de l’Economie Numérique, Guinea) said that for five years, Guinea has been involved in programmes to reduce problems of digital divides targeting youth especially through raising awareness during training in universities and schools. Mr Raúl Echeberría (Vice President, Internet Society) emphasised the importance of people realising how relevant the Internet is for them and how it can improve their lives, especially for young generations and women. He added that all actors need to be engaged at public policy level.
Mr Frank Mc Cosker (General Manager, Affordable Access & Smart Financing, Microsoft) facilitated the fourth track - Session Fifteen - on Enabling Environment, which focused on the importance of legislation, access, trust between governments and civil society, and human rights. In Mali, the adoption of the Law on Personal Data Protection has been put forward to better legislate and protect, especially with regard to creating more secure environment for transactions. Mexico's federal government has launched a number of projects to enable better education for its citizens about accessible services and the options that every consumer has. Abeer Shakweer (Minister's Advisor for Social Responsibility, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Egypt) presented the plan to build several technology parks across the country, away from the capital, aiming to create job opportunities as well as to attract investors.
Mr Matthew Shears (Director, Global Internet Policy and Human Rights, Centre for Democracy & Technology) and Ms Anriette Esterhuysen (Executive Director, Association for Progressive Communications (APC)) highlighted the importance of trust between citizens and the government, and freedom of expression for all. Shears stated that by creating an enabling environment not only can business thrive, but also individuals and society in general. Esterhuysen looked deeper into the problem of freedom online, saying that in many countries civil society representatives have less freedom to do their work since their calls are being intercepted without their knowledge, or journalists are not being able to trust that their sources will be protected. She concluded that the Rule of Law is as important for business and investment as it is for human rights, democracy, and activists. Ms Aminatta Garba (Director of African Network Information Centre & Assistant Professor at Carnegie Mellon University) pointed out that people from rural areas are having a hard time using the Internet and devices connected to it, because they feel they were not created for them to use.
by Aida Mahmutovic