Earlier this week, I participated in AIS Chennai, hosted by the ISOC India Chennai Chapter. The event was themed “India in the Open and Global Internet” and was focused on Internet Governance issues and what India could offer to the global conversation.
Attendees were a mix of business, technical community and academia, with a fairly large number of youth from local tertiary institutions. Interestingly, most of these students were undertaking non-technical courses.
Discussions covered a wide range of topics, including privacy, censorship, responsible use of social media, network neutrality, access and connectivity, international roaming charges and the disruptive nature of the Internet – which continues to challenge traditional business models and requires businesses to adapt and adopt for continued success.
There were a couple of things in the discussions that stood out for me:
– for the large part, dialogue on Internet Governance takes place between a select few who either have a deep interest in, or have the resources (be it personally or professionally with their work) to partake in such fora
– to some extent, the position on Internet Governance issues – from a societal point of view – is sometimes formed based on the values and norms inherent in that society e.g. based on cultural or religious perspectives, and often these play out in global fora
– the majority of India’s population resides in rural areas where there continues to be issues with access and connectivity; this has a direct impact on the ability for people to engage in Internet Governance-related issues; for the most part, it’s only people in urban centres and larger cities who are aware of the issues and only a very small subset of those actually engage in the issues
The world Internet population is estimated to be around 3 billion at present – and ever-increasing. Industry estimates for India put the figure at somewhere around 300 million. In India’s case, this means some 75% of the population is still not online, though this has been rapidly changing – I still remember some two years ago when this figure was hovering around the 100 million mark – so growth has been quite rapid in recent times.
With close to 1 billion mobile phones in the country, it’s only a matter of time before people start changing older phones to smartphones (in fact its already happening) and coupled with service providers offering cheaper mobile data packages, this will have an immediate impact on increasing Internet penetration levels in India. Issues in and around Internet Governance will then be all the more important – as will be the need to engage on these issues far and wide.
For India – as well I think for the rest of the world – these conversations will need to take place locally – in towns, in villages, and yes in the larger cities too. The conversations will also need to be in multiple languages and in a style and tone that is understood – and can indeed be debated upon – at that very local level.
This point really drove home for me during AIS Chennai. Whilst there were a couple of us in the room from the “usual suspects” – and we have been involved in Internet Governance related discussions from nearly when the term was coined – the vast majority of the participants were new to the discussion. And just about every one of these new voices in the discussion offered some insight or perspective that we the “usual suspects” found thought-provoking, in particular interventions from the youth.
It became very obvious then, that localising Internet Governance will help us with better informed interventions at all levels, be they national, regional or global. Richer, fuller dialogue will help us with discussing and responding to issues which matter to the most important stakeholder – the Internet User.