In times when disintegration seems to be the word of the day, it is a pleasure to witness people coming together to build bridges and find common ground. The first Central Asian Internet Governance Forum (CAIGF) took place in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on 21-22 June gathering a significant group of local, regional and international stakeholders.
Central Asia consists of five former soviet republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan), and this IGF marked a first time to conduct open dialogue on Internet policy matters in the region. The organisers – the Kyrgyz Government and the Civil Initiative on Internet Policy – rallied support from a group of partners including the Internet Society, the Internet Governance Forum Support Association (IGFSA), ICANN and others.
The issues raised during the conference were very much in line with the priorities of many global Internet stakeholders today.
Internet access is still a challenge especially in remote and rural areas. According to International Telecommunications Union data (ITU, 2014), Internet penetration in Central Asia ranges from 12% in Turkmenistan to 55% in Kazakhstan. Even though these numbers are likely to be higher now, several challenges persist in this largely land-locked region. Options for international connectivity are limited and demand for Internet access is curbed by prices, low levels of digital literacy and lack of local content. The Internet Society shared experiences and good practices from other parts of the world in the areas of traffic exchange and wireless connectivity.
Internet security and resilience are on top of the Internet agenda in Central Asia as in many other regions. The countries in the regions do not yet have comprehensive national cybersecurity strategies or critical infrastructure protection schemes, and CAIGF provided a platform to exchange ideas and listen to experts. Much like in Europe, privacy and other rights are a central part of the discussion about planned and actual measures for national and cybersecurity in Central Asia. While we may not yet have all the answers on how to secure our Internet environment, the first step is to break the “security tabu” and discuss the issues at stake openly with all relevant stakeholders.
Our hosts and event partners went to great lengths to make this first CAIGF a successful event. The CAIGF offered us an opportunity to better understand the hopes and concerns of the Central Asian stakeholders.
As a next step, we would like to encourage the participation of Central Asian stakeholders in the global Internet fora such as the global Internet Governance Forum (IGF). It is important that all the corners of the world are represented and heard as part of the global discussions on the Internet!