NOTE: On 19 October 2015, Dr. Alejandro Pisanty spoke at the United Nations General Assembly as part
These comments are articulated around the zero draft of the document for the United Nations General Assembly’s Overall Review of the Implementation of WSIS Outcomes and also address some comments by other parties made in writing and during the consultation session.
The contribution of education to the development of the Information Society is of foremost importance. It is an essential part of solving the problem of access to the Internet and other tools of the Information Society, in the general field of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs.)
Formal education, usually mandated and in many cases provided by governments, must open up to include the teaching of computer programming (coding) in a modern, attractive way. The objective is not necessarily to produce a society of programmers, but the bottom line is to foster a citizenship that is aware of the basic aspects of how computers work, in particular the effects of automation and algorithms.
Therefore it is not only computer training that is important. A full access to the Information Society will be achieved optimally by citizens educated in science, mathematics and technology, and with strong critical thinking. This also contributes to counter the spread of misinformation and fraud through the Internet.
The Internet has given rise to forms of education beyond formal education that have proven to be effective. Among these are hackathons and many varieties of fine-grained education and training events, whether face-to-face or online. Governments should foster the activity of other stakeholders and help them reach larger populations and getting this education and training recognized when it delivers quality.
The points above connect mostly to paragraph 21 of the zero-draft.
Paragraph 13 presents the impressive impact of mobile access to the Internet. This should continue and all actors who commit to the outcomes of this consultation and the General Assembly’s resolution that derives from it should continue to support mobile, not only at the infrastructure layer but also in the development of content and services. Youth and other disenfranchised populations benefit from consuming but also producing these applications. Standards are important to make the applications used broadly and over the Internet, not only within the “walled gardens” of closed apps environments.
Importantly for Paragraph 13, mobile access lacks some affordances of fixed networks and large-format, computationally powerful interfaces. The growth of mobile access cannot be a pretext to make the expansion of fixed broadband. Investments in this expansion will not become inexpensive as fast as mobile and will need a full commitment from the relevant stakeholders to continue, even into regions that are not initially profitable. Universal access funds have proven to be a tool of limited utility for access expansion; they often lack size and scalability, and easily become politicized in a way that stops serving the neediest populations. Other forms of public and private investment need to continue for this purpose.
Accompanying access, especially in the mobile space, is the advantage of compliance with technical standards that maximize interoperability. Our own experience in introducing Internet tools in education reflects on this point; as an example, the introduction of HTML5-compliant resources in face-to-face, online, mobile and blended education creates an accessible, inexpensive, inclusive environment that fosters collective learning instead of only isolated individual learning experience.
Compliance with open standards further facilitates the expansion of impact and sales of applications that simultaneously provide a rich user experience and easy expansion across physical and operating-system platforms with a single development effort. Producers have an easier time to reach larger markets or populations.
Grouping the above, a commitment to the Internet’s core values of interoperability and openness, now also called Internet Invariants.
Paragraph 17 on contributions from UNESCO, CSTD and the ITU should be complemented with “listening to the broad and deep expertise available worldwide among all stakeholder sectors.”
Regarding Paragraph 40, the emphasis on “respective roles” does provide some needed clarity but, as we have discussed since 2004 in the time of the WGIG, the document that the General Assembly approves should not refrain from calling for a form of active cooperation among all stakeholders that aims less to stay in silos and more to make sure that necessary actions are undertaken and dangerous voids are filled cooperatively instead of being left to exist because they are not in job descriptions.
Multistakeholder collaboration has to be tailored to specific issues and stakeholders. There is not one unique mechanism that will work for all purposes in the same way. It is not incompatible with democratic principles. In fact it elaborates and enriches democratic frameworks where they exist, and provide for participation in their absence. Technical, business and civil-society communities from developing countries have benefitted enormously over the years from access to these types of collaboration without having to wait for “official channels”, which in most cases fail to ever materialize.
Multistakeholder governance is a practice that is used in many fields outside the Internet; some examples exist in the management of the environment and of common-pool resources. There is a growing body of literature around it. Lessons learned in all fields should feed into Internet governance but also from Internet governance to other fields. Further, from within the Internet governance, UN-based framework, the IGF has in operation a Best Practice Forum on Multistakeholder Governance which is compiling best practices, knowledge, experience and outlooks int the future on this vital field. The resolutions of the Assembly General will surely be enriched by resting on this knowledge.
Regarding Network Neutrality, Paragraph 35, I have published some ways to analyze and make progress on this issue. I would particularly want to point to the work of the Dynamic Coalition on Network Neutrality of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), i.e. within the UN Internet governance framework, for guidance and valuable contributions to the further work mandated by the WSIS+10 review of this issue.
Regarding Paragraphs 46, 47, 48 and 49 concerned with cybersecurity:
It would be useful that the document that emerges from the General Assembly make a clearer distinction than the zero draft between the uses of the term “cybersecurity” for national security and for personal and public security. The political implications, technical approaches and legal tools for each share some commonalities but also involve stark differences.
Many of the issues in this area, like children online safety, cybercrime and attacks against national security reflect new technical approaches to preexisting forms of conduct. A framework that emerges from the General Assembly would need to encourage all stakeholders, but in particular governments and their legislative and judicial branches, to analyze and regulate first and foremost the conduct and only having done that, the media and technology applied. Laws, education, prevention, deterrence and risk management are known, in most cases even ancient, for each of these conducts. Laws already exist that can be adapted to the new media instead of legislating de novo for the media.