GPD has participated in a consultation by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)’s Council Working Group on Internet-Related Public Policy Issues’ (CWG-Internet) on harnessing new and emerging telecommunications/ICTs for sustainable development.
These consultations ordinarily take place twice a year, on subjects chosen by the CWG-Internet. Since 2016, GPD has participated in several CWG-Internet consultations—on developmental aspects of the internet, OTT services, and bridging the digital gender divide.
In our response to this latest consultation, and our statement at the in-person meeting, we highlighted both the opportunities ICTs can provide for sustainable development and the risks posed by the persistence of “digital divides”—providing a series of recommendations:
- Investment in infrastructure should be equitable, ensuring that all groups and communities are able to benefit and that no-one is left behind;
- There should be a focus on better spectrum management and the diverse range of options for bringing people online, such as community networks;
- Digital education should be supported and increased;
- Cyberspace must be a human rights-respecting environment so as to ensure the trust of users, including through effective and rights-respecting cybersecurity frameworks and measures; and
- Relevant policymaking processes must be open, inclusive and transparent.
Some reflections on the consultation meeting
At ITU in person meetings, those who make submissions are invited to present them (for up to three minutes) and make comments on any others. On the basis of this, the Chair drafts a brief summary document which is then reviewed by all the participants, discussed and amended if necessary, and then sent to the ITU’s Council for consideration.
These meetings are often fractious, reflecting a broader division over the role of ITU in relation to the internet and other digital technologies and, in particular, whether it should be setting standards and policies. Given that the topic of this particular consultation was “new and emerging telecommunications/ICTs”, one might have expected a similar battle. However this was not the case, and discussions lasted only for an hour or so.
There were probably two main factors for the relatively quick agreement of the text of the summary report.
First, the draft which had been circulated was, indeed, just a summary and largely neutral in setting out the positions that had been put forward, not giving any particular prominence. As such, there was really only one point of contention—whether regulatory responses to some of the issues raised were needed. This point was addressed through compromise wording that regulatory reforms “can help” and “may be required” rather than being necessary. Second, there were relatively few states actively participating in the meeting, and all were like-minded. While there were ten or so states in the room, only the United Kingdom and Canada sought to influence the drafting of the report. Surprisingly, no interventions came from Russia and states from the Middle East, who are often active at these meetings.
The final report makes a number of key points which, although uncontroversial, are nonetheless welcome:
- New and emerging telecommunications/ICTs offer considerable opportunities to advance sustainable development across a range of sectors and contribute to driving innovation, communication and economic growth;
- They can also bring with them significant challenges, especially those related to aspects such as widening of the digital divide, privacy and security. Some consultation participants further emphasised the importance of continuing to innovate, use and deploy technologies to reach the unconnected;
- There are many policy issues relating to new and emerging telecommunications/ICTs, including affordable access, security and user trust, data privacy, connectivity, education and training, investment and infrastructure;
- Appropriate pro-competitive regulatory frameworks can help to foster digital innovation and investment, and regulatory reforms may be required in some cases.
- There is a need for greater multi-stakeholder action and a closer cooperation between the different stakeholders involved; and
- Human rights must be respected.
You can read GPD’s submission to the consultation here, and find out more about the consultation (and read the other submissions to it) here. There will be a further consultation later this year on community networks. To find out more about the ITU, visit our ITU Info Hub, and for details on how to join the ITU civil society coordination mailing list, email email@example.com.