Introducing the Masters of the Internet at the Fourth Internet Governance Forum
By E.K.Bensah Jr.
Despite the apparent growing ubiquity of broadband internet--as expressed, for example, through USB mobile modems that promise us heaven and blink-of-the-eye speeds--it is true that access to the internet is a great deal better than it was even five years ago.
The media generally likes to talk a lot about costs going down, inexorably providing the general Ghanaian population with relatively less expensive access to the Internet. Truth be told, the availability of mobile phones is probably that which has democratised access to the 'Net, through the easy access of wap-enabled services--as exemplified by those of Zain, which, with a simple sim card, enables you connect to mobile internet within 24 hours.
Back to the ICT Future?
You may re-call that last week, I touched on ITU and how it creates standards. This week, I want to remind us to reflect a bit on the progress of the Internet since 2005, when the World Summit of Information Society ended in Tunisia with what has come to be known as the “Tunis Agenda for the Information Society”. Adopted on November 18, 2005 in Tunis, Tunisia, it called for the creation of an Internet Governance Forum(IGF) and what wikipedia calls “a novel, lightweight, multi-stakeholder governance structure for the Internet.”
Few Ghanaians might know that as I write this, the Fourth Edition of what has become known to the ICT cognoscenti as IGF will end on 18 November, where a number of important developments in the ICT and information society sector will develop. The Internet Governance Forum is underway in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, which to some might seem a curious place, given its record on human rights. Already, repports doing the rounds on the internet are trying to suggest that the UN has been involved in some kind of nefarious conspiracy of silencing proponents of human rights--just because some UN guards removed posters on human rights that had not been approved earlier.
Back in Tunis, in 2005, there was even a stabbing of a human rights activist, lending credence to the assumption that just because it was a UN-sponsored conference, the global body could come and wag its finger at Tunisia for bad human rights. Most of us who had the priviledge to be there at that time were consumed by attentiveness to the multiplicity of terminologies and developments coming at us with juggernaut speed that in all honesty, agitations like that looked like a footnote to the wider debate on where the information society was going.
IGF IV Explained
All that said, reports seem to indicate that the meeting is rather focused, with discussions focusing primarily on access to the “Internet; diversity; openness; security; and critical internet resources”.
The statistics are also not to be sneezed at. For example, Subramanian Ramadorai, the Vice-Chairman of Tata Consultancy Services in India has not just talked about how new technologies “can mean the difference between life and death for the 701 per cent of the global population still unconnected to the Internet”, but crucially, how “while 79.4 per cent of Australians and 70 per cent of Americans have internet access, only 15 per cent of Asians and only 4 percent of Africans have access.” This kind of statistic reinforces the perception of a digital divide that is a veritable reality for millions of the non-connected. One-Laptop-Per-Child (OLPC), though a commendable endeavour that also came out of WSIS 2005, can only go so far in addressing the digital divide.
What it seems we can say about the outcome of this IGF is that it will be one that makes concrete suggestions on the above-mentioned points, including recognizing that connectivity has a direct correlation with a positive social and economic changes; therefore ensuring that rural communities are privy and party to these positive changes are critical.
Ramadorai maintains that bringing ICT into rural clinics, schools and mobile devices, impacts basic education, health care, and agriculture in ways that one can never have imagined. To that extent, it makes sense that while we appreciate that consumers in the developed market enjoy broadband and are even moving to newer technologies, there is quite some catch-up that many parts of the developing world will need to do to ensure that the information society is not just part of UN nomenclature--but contributes to a fair and inclusive society.
ekbensah AT gmail.com / +233-268.891.841