UNESCO consults experts on Internet Universality Indicators at Brussels conference

04 April 2017

UNESCO has launched its first formal consultation to define Internet Universality Indicators, during a breakfast session organized at the RightsCon Conference in Brussels last week.

This occasion provided an opportunity to present this new project of UNESCO and to gather feedback from a high-level group of experts working on digital issues. Many further consultations, directly and via electronic methods, are envisioned over the next year.

“The initiative aims to develop a recognised and authoritative global research tool for assessing Internet development in each country, and make an optimum contribution to the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development Goals” said Frank la Rue, UNESCO Assistant Director General.

Supported by Sweden and the Internet Society, the project focuses specially on UNESCO’s concept of Internet Universality and the principles of human Rights, Openness, Accessibility and Multi-stakeholder participation (abbreviated as the R.O.A.M principles).

Speaking about the Human Rights category of Indicators, Ms Eileen Donahoe, distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said the initiative was very welcome. “There is a momentum as big digital platforms are showing will to respect human rights, but at the same time they need some guidance,” she stated.

Ms Constance Bommelaer de Leusse, Senior Director, Global Internet policy at ISOC, said there was a need to measure the technical dimension of openness which underpinned the free flow of information and ideas online.  

Commenting on measuring the accessibility of the Internet, Mr Dhanaraj Thakur, Senior Research Manager, Alliance for Affordable Internet, said that the cost of internet access in terms of data per month should be an important element measured by the indicators.

He also underlined the importance for the data of the project to be published on an open-basis to be interrogated afterwards and be linked to advocacy causes. “There is also a need to track the diverse uses of the internet and provide gender separated data,” he stated.

Mr Kyung-Sin Park, professor at Korea University provided input about the multi-stakeholder indicators.

Sharing her experience on indicators, Ms Rebecca McKinnon, Director at Ranking Digital Rights advised that indicators alone did not solve problems, in that they could only indicate what would be an ideal situation. It was hence important to think what are going to be the incentives to reach those ideals.

After launching a call for proposals in January 2017, UNESCO received several applications from all over the world and will soon be starting the research with the selected partner. In parallel, interested entities will be encouraged to engage with UNESCO via email and a forthcoming website for the project.

A final set of indicators should be delivered around mid-2018, and will be presented to the intergovernmental council of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) for possible endorsement.