UNESCO promotes Internet Universality indicators to advance SDGs at WSIS Forum 2018

27 March 2018

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Panelists shared their feedback on the first Internet universality indicators.
© UNESCO

Building on the vibrant consultation that UNESCO conducted on defining the Internet Universality Indicators at the WSIS Forum in 2017, UNESCO hosted a high-level session on Promoting Internet Universality Indicators as a comprehensive tool for achieving the SDGs during the WSIS Forum 2018.  In the session, UNESCO presented the first draft Internet universality indicators, a comprehensive tool to help states and stakeholders to measure Internet policies in support of achieving the SDGs at the national level that can serve as a recognized and authoritative global research tool for stakeholders to assess Internet development in their countries.

 “Implementing the Internet Universality indicators is crucial as it will help all stakeholders understand the state of their national Internet environment, and therefore support the development of concrete policy guidelines” underlined Getachew Engida, Deputy Director General of UNESCO, at the opening of the session.  The session, moderated by Boyan Radoykov, Chief of the Section for Universal Access and Preservation at UNESCO, attracted more than 100 participants. 

“The application of the indicators will be an important step towards Internet development and policy improvements” underlined Getachew Engida, Deputy Director General of UNESCO at the opening of the session.  The initiative to develop the Internet universality indicators, supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and the Internet Society (ISOC), was jointly presented by Xianhong Hu (UNESCO) and Anri van der Spuy, representing the Association for Progressive Communications Consortium commissioned by UNESCO to conduct the research on defining Internet Universality indicators.

During the high-level session, a panel of eight speakers provided their feedback on the first Internet Universality indicators. Participants discussed all six categories of indicators developed in light of UNESCO’s internet universality framework and ROAMX principles, based on the principle that the Internet should be Rights-based, Open, Accessible, Multi-stakeholder and take into account crosscutting themes including gender equality and youth.

“The Internet universality indicators project is a useful initiative to assist the international community and national policy makers to tackle the legal, ethical and societal challenges of the information society” underlined Chafica Haddad, the Chair of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Information for All Programme (IFAP). She stressed that IFAP would serve as a platform to debate and implement Internet universality indicators in Member States and assist national counterparts  in formulating policies aimed at bridging the digital divide and ensuring equitable knowledge societies.  Providing an overview of IFAP priorities including information literacy and information ethics and the work of the programme in addressing emerging issues such as the dark net and deep web, Haddad emphasized that “information literacy empowers people in all ways of life.”

“Human rights should equally apply online and offline; an Internet that fails to uphold human rights is incompatible with the SDGs” stressed Thomas Schneider, Vice-Director of the Swiss Federal Office of Communications.  “The concept of internet universality is very valuable because it promotes features of the internet that are fundamental to it fulfilling its potential for sustainable development,” he further stressed. When discussing the Access and Multi-stakeholder participation indicators part of the Internet universality indicators, Schneider underlined that “access to the Internet should be equal, non-discriminatory and affordable to all citizens.  Multi-stakeholder cooperation is essential if you want to create an Internet Society with a human dimension.”  Rati Skhirtladze, from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), equally insisted on the affordability of ICT services as an enabler of Internet universality, and suggested, on behalf of the ITU, using ICT Price baskets as a measure of affordability.

On crosscutting indicators, Dorothy Gordon, the UNESCO IFAP Chair on Information Literacy, stressed that the Internet universality indicators “have the potential to be really transformational” and will help address the gender gap in Internet use and access and boost the development of Knowledge and Information Societies.  Gordon further stressed the importance of the open consultation process, mobilizing not only Government but also civil society and the private sector to provide feedback on the process.  She further suggested that UNESCO develop an interactive platform online to ensure stakeholder feedback at the national level on the use of the indicators and possible adaptations to national contexts.  “It will be crucial that UNESCO ensures resources to build a platform that will allow stakeholders to share how they implement indicators in individual countries” underlined Gordon concerning the implementation of the project at the national level.

Alison Gillwald, Executive director of Research ICT Africa, underlined the challenge, in the framework of the applications of the indicators at the national level, to maintain common values related to human rights while working in national contexts where rights cannot be assumed. “Indexes that assume we should have online rights when we don’t have offline rights can pose a challenge” Gillwald underlined, stressing the importance of acknowledging that the underlying human development issues, including education, that underpin persistent gaps including with regards to gender equality, must also be addressed in tandem.  Ramiz Uddin, Head of Results Management and Data in Bangladesh’s a2i, reflected on the use of the indicators based on the experience in Bangladesh in ensuring openness in education and added that it is important to keep a manageable number of indicators so interested stakeholders can use them effectively.

“This project is very relevant for the future of the Internet. It embraces very complex issues, but we are in a complex time. In the Internet space, complexity is our strength but also our challenge,” stated Raquel Gatto, representative of the Internet Society (ISOC).  Gatto further underlined the possibility of the indicators to help empower communities to shape their own future through collaborative, inclusive, transparent, and multi-stakeholder analysis.

Towards the end of 2018 and following further multi-stakeholder consultation, UNESCO will finalize the Internet universality indicators. Pilots and pre-tests will be undertaken in several countries in order to provide insights on the applicability of the indicators in various national contexts. The final Internet universality indicators will then be submitted to UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) Council Meeting for endorsement in November 2018.