UNESCO launched the concept of Internet Universality in 2013 as a way to identify features of the internet that are fundamental to fulfilling the potential of this human creation for the building of knowledge societies and achieving sustainable development.
The concept of Internet Universality was then endorsed by UNESCO’s General Conference in 2015. It serves as a heuristic for approaching Internet-related issues and their relevance to our aspirations for sustainable development. The concept highlights four principles that serve as the key pillars underpinning the growth and evolution of the Internet, and it points to the need to strengthen these as the Internet becomes more pervasive in all dimensions of life.
The four principles embraced by Internet Universality – known as the R-O-A-M principles – are seen as fundamental to the development of the Internet in ways that are conducive to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. These principles are:
R – that the Internet be based on human Rights
O – that it is Open
A – that it should be Accessible to all, and
M – that it is nurtured by Multistakeholder participation
It is to enable more concrete analysis of the Internet Universality concept at country level that a research framework of indicators has been developed. The purpose of this framework of Internet Universality indicators is to assist interested governments and other stakeholders who seek to voluntarily assess their national Internet environments as a means towards enable evidence-based policy formulation.
The Internet Universality indicators draw on UNESCO’s previous experience with indicator frameworks concerned with media and communications, from the Media Development Indicators (2008), to the Gender-Sensitive Indicators for Media (2012), UNESCO's Journalists' Safety Indicators (2013) as well as indicators concerned with media and information literacy.
A process of desk research, expert consultation internationally, and field testing in a range of countries, lies behind the Internet Universality indicators. This work was undertaken by UNESCO with the support of a consortium led by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and including ict Development Associates, LIRNEasia and Research ICT Africa.
The first round of consultation was concerned with the broad themes of Internet Universality and the ways in which they might be encapsulated in an indicator framework. An online consultation was held between June and October 2017 and attracted 198 contributions. Consultative meetings and workshops were also held at 26 international, regional and national events between March and October 2017.
A second round of consultation, held along similar lines between December 2017 and March 2018, invited contributions and comments on a draft indicator framework and set of indicators. This attracted 138 contributions, while additional consultative meetings and workshops were held at a further 15 international, regional and national events.
In a third phase, the indicators which emerged from these consultation processes were then further refined and put to the test through scientific screening or pre-testing in four countries – Brazil, Ecuador, Nigeria and Pakistan. This was followed by another refinement exercise as a prelude to part-piloting exercises in three countries – Brazil, Senegal and Thailand. The result of this experience enabled a final improvement of the indicators.
Recognition of the indicators came in November 2018 the 31st Session of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Council of the International Program for Development of Communication (IPDC) which “welcomed the Internet Universality indicators framework” and “endorsed the use of this tool on a voluntary basis as a useful resource available for Member States.”
Financial support has come from the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), the Internet Society (ISOC), the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), NIC.br, and LACNIC.