Promoting internet universality indicators as a comprehensive tool for achieving SDGs

21 Mar 2018 13:30h - 15:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]

The session discussed the project of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCOs’) project to implement indicators to assess the Internet in any country. These are voluntary global research tools for stakeholders, intended to facilitate evidence-based dialogue on Internet policy options. The draft includes qualitative and quantitative indicators that satisfy requirements of:

  • Human rights
  • Openness
  • Accessibility
  • Multi-stakeholder participation
  • Crosscutting issues

The introductory speech was given by Mr Getachew Engida, UNESCO assistant director-general for communication and information. He argued that media and technology have changed, but freedom of expression and the need for a free flow of information by any means remain. Opening the panel discussion, he then stressed two fundamental points. Firstly that ‘the internet is too important to be left to governments’ thus the need for multistakeholderism is essential. Secondly, the discussion is not only about connectivity but also about content, language diversity, and capacity building.

The session was moderated by Mr Boyan Radoykov, chief for universal access and preservation of UNESCO. Ms Xianhong Hu, UNESCO Division of freedom of expression and media development, argued in favour of multistakeholderism as the required means to tackle Internet governance issues. She explained that the project aims to foster international and universal standard indicators based on principles of human rights, openness, accessibility and multistakeholderism. She also recalled the use of an online platform for contributions intended as a transparent and open tool to foster and improve the indicators.

The speaker from the second project was Ms Anri Van Der Spuy, a UNESCO expert commissioned to define Internet universality indicators, from the Association for Progressive Communications (APC). She reflected on crosscutting aspects: gender equality, needs of children and young people, sustainable development, trust and security, and legal and ethical aspects of the Internet. She then moved on to the details of the project, structured around the paradigm of procedures through themes, questions, indicator sources, and the contextualisation of indicators with analysis of the economic, demographic, development, equality, governance, and ICT development indicators.

Ms Chafica Haddad, chair of the UNESCO Information for All Programme (IFAP), focused on two priorities: information literacy, and ethics. Speaking of the code of ethics, she argued in favour of an information society based on universal values, and run by a multistakeholder approach. She underlined the role of the WSIS action line C10 as an important indicator of ethics issues, and highlighted the need for instruments that member states can use to implement Internet policies. Indeed, indicators need the enforcement of national legal frameworks. She then moved to her second point, stating that information literacy empowers people to achieve personal, professional and educational goals.

Mr Thomas Schneider, vice-director of the Swiss Federal Office of Communications, described the Internet as a network for economic and social relations. Therefore the indicators are an important innovation for developing effective policy in the field of the Internet governance. He also proposed focussing on human rights, and multistakeholderism. He recalled the importance of guaranteeing freedom of expression and the right to Internet access, while enhancing digital literacy to critically cope with the amount of information available on the Internet. He also stressed the importance of the inclusion of women, and access to ICTs and their applications. From the multistakeholderism aspect, he argued that every actor is needed for effective cooperation, in its own role. On the implementation of the indicators, he proposed three suggestions:

  • spread the discussion of the indicators to national and regional governance structures;
  • rely on the 2016 Council of Europe recommendations on Internet freedom to simplify the UNESCO indicators;
  • benefit from other platforms, such as the Internet Governance Forum, to reach new partners.  

Ms Dorothy Gordon, UNESCO IFAP chair on information literacy, stated that ‘universality indicators have the potential to be transformational’. She said indicators call for document skills set at different levels; however there is no international agreement on how to categorise them. Her suggestion was to use the indicators as a base to reach consensus and define skills.

Ms Constance Bommelaer, of the Internet Society, said that the very nature of the Internet is of a voluntary network, which requires a new framework in which human beings remain in control of their social destiny. She proposed the following suggestions for the implementation of the UNESCO project:

  • drive technical development with human values ;
  • promote human rights online and offline;
  • make users the focus;
  • address the need to close the digital divide;
  • promote the Internet economy for everyone;
  • address accountability;
  • promote resilience and security;
  • approve online social norms;
  • empower people to decide their future.

Dr Ramiz Uddin, head of results management and data, Bangladesh a2i, argued that the indicators advocate and are in line with the right to information. He suggested that they should be more explanatory.

Ms Alison Gillwald, executive director of Research ICT, Africa, argued that any global index is problematic because of the unavailability of global data. She stressed the crosscutting dimension of the indicators, highlighting that education is the base and fundamental goal to be addressed for promoting and enhancing gender equality. She said multistakeholderism is not a rhetorical collaboration but an aggregate effort.

Mr Rati Skhirtladze, head of ICT data and statistics division of ITU, concluded the discussion with the following suggestions:


By Stefania Grottola