[AfrICANN-discuss] UN-Led Commission Sees Needs In Internet
Governance, Science, Technology
annerachel at gmail.com
Tue Jun 9 12:26:02 SAST 2009
*8 June 2009*
UN-Led Commission Sees Needs In Internet Governance, Science, Technology By
Kaitlin Mara <http://www.ip-watch.org/weblog/author/kaitlin/> @ 1:14 pm
A commission under the United Nations charged with monitoring progress in
improving science and technology in places where access is difficult and
capacity to use that access scarce, concluded its recent annual meeting with
draft resolutions on internet and society and on development and science.
One notes that there is still much work to be done to bridge the ‘digital
divide’ that creates disparities in access to information technology and
knowledge in the world; the other calls on governments and UN institutions
to find innovative ways to support innovative capacity.
At the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), which met
from 25 to 29 May in
delegates pondered ways to combat “brain drain” and the need for
ever-expanding education in science, technology and related fields,
especially in poor and rural areas. They also examined the continued lack of
access to the internet, both as the most powerful access tool in the world
to reach resources needed for innovation and as a part of an updated mandate
for the commission to oversee implementation of a process to expand access.
The CSTD, which falls under the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), is
a high-level, intergovernmental body. It is mandated to examine science and
technology policies and their implications for development, and then
formulate recommendations and guidelines for the UN on those matters. Draft
resolutions from the commission are sent to ECOSOC for final adoption. The
UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) hosts the commission’s
The commission, which meets annually, began meeting 1993, and in 2006 was
given an additional mandate to review the World Summit on the Information
Society (WSIS) implementation progress.
The WSIS was a UN-led process intended to make available universal access to
the internet and communications technology; that is, to bridge the
increasing divide in access to knowledge as the digital resolution
fundamentally changed the functioning of economies with access to it,
leaving those without ever further behind.
Resolution Neutral On IGF
It was the follow-up evaluation at WSIS that absorbed most conversation at
the end of the week, as the commission went into informal talks to hammer
out an assessment of progress made on the WSIS, stretching late into the
evening on the last days.
A key point of contention was language acknowledging the work of the
Internet Governance Forum (IGF), established by the WSIS for stakeholders to
discuss all aspects of governing the online world, from languages to domain
names, from online safety to extending internet access. What is unique about
the IGF is that it is a multi-stakeholder process, in recognition of the
wide variety of stakeholders in the way the internet is managed, including
business and civil society.
The IGF is a non-negotiating body which has allowed debate to flow freely on
issues that might otherwise be too controversial to make discussion possible
- such as regulating the internet, or monitoring its users. But some
stakeholders would like to see some kind of output from the discussions, for
different reasons. The IGF mandate is up on 2010, and if new direction is
not given, the forum will cease to meet.
At issue with this year’s review was how positively to refer to the IGF’s
work to date, according to several sources. It matters because the report is
expected to influence the next IGF meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt on
15-18 November, at which the fate of the forum will be decided.
Referring to the IGF’s work positively would demonstrate its success and
lend support to those entities who want the forum to continue. Those who do
not want it to continue in its current form - notably China, according to
several sources, who wants an intergovernmental process - preferred to have
a more neutral acknowledgement of the IGF work.
The final text reads: “Notes the discussions in the IGF as a
multi-stakeholder platform on public policy issues related to internet
governance which were observed by the UN SG [Secretary General] in his
report, expresses appreciation for the work done by the Chair, the
Secretariat and the host Governments of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF),
and looks forward to the convening of the fourth meeting of the IGF in
Egypt,” according to a participant.
This resolution on WSIS is the second the CSTD has produced. Last year’s,
contained in the report of the 2008 CSTD
“with appreciation” all of the IGF’s work, including the
multi-stakeholder approach and “innovated platform.”
A report from the UN secretary general on WSIS progress was even more
encouraging, saying the IGF had “matured in several respects,” allowing for
discussions on “politically sensitive issues in a climate of good faith.”
That report, released on 13 March 2009, is available
It also reported that the digital divide had narrowed in 2008, and that over
half of the world’s population had at least some level of connectivity.”
Further, 80-90 percent of the world’s population has access to a cellular
network, the report said.
But problems continue, despite some improvement, because much of the access
to the internet that has been achieved has been achieved through dial-up
access, the report adds. This is, the report said, “barely powerful enough
for e-mail,” and severely limits access to many of the variety of media
formats that populate the web.
Thus the digital divide is quickly becoming the “broadband divide,”
referring to high-speed internet access.
And a delegate from Africa during the May CTSD meeting challenged the idea
that mobile phones could be used to combat poverty. “I’m not sure we’re
living in the same world,” the delegate said. “In an African village with no
electricity, where are you going to charge the phone?”
Also approved at the CSTD meeting was a mid-term review of the WSIS process,
to be done in 2010. This will cover all five years of WSIS implementation.
Science & Technology Critical
The resolution on science and technology for development was adopted with
little discussion. It recognises the “critical role of innovation in
maintaining national competitiveness in the global economy” and encourages
countries to expand capacity for science and technology research through
educational opportunities, creative funding strategies, international
partnerships, and other means.
In the resolution, the commission is charged with being a “torch-bearer for
innovation and innovation-oriented planning” which means they should share
and analyse data on policy impacts, identify critical gaps, and help
identify best practices.
The next meeting of ECOSCOC, which will discuss the resolutions of the CSTD,
will be 6-31 July in Geneva.
Information Sessions Highlight Varying National Needs
Earlier in the week, delegates heard two days of panels, presentations and
ministerial roundtables on science, technology and innovation. Audio
recordings of the first days’ presentations can be found
On the third day, delegates heard the national experiences of Ghana,
Lesotho, Abu Dhabi, Iraq, Brazil, and Oman. These helped highlight some of
the difficulty involved in coordinating science and innovation capacity
“In Ghana, there is a lack of effective demand for scientists and
engineers,” said Alfred Watkins, science and technology programme
coordinator at the World Bank. “They get trained, but they don’t find jobs.”
Finding ways to fight the ‘brain drain’ of qualified professionals is a big
problem. The presentation of Iraq noted that the countries security
situation was also causing brain drain.
Intellectual property and innovation policy was mentioned several times
during the course of these conversations, as countries tried to explore not
only the existance, but the contours of the digital and technological
Brazil’s presentation mentioned an exploration of open source software as a
possible route to increase information access. Austria supported this idea,
calling open source “essential for development” as it helps people to
understand the software they are using and even build their own.
Publicly funded research that is protected by intellectual property amounts
to double taxation, said delegate from IT for Change, an Indian advocacy
group calling for information technology to be used to aid development. The
research was “already paid for by the public, so it should be free.”
But South Africa said it was concerned that the outputs of its publicly
funded research had been used abroad. “We think it needs to benefit South
Africans,” the delegate said, and “therefore needs to be protected.”
*Kaitlin Mara may be reached at kmara at ip-watch.ch.*
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