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Access

Updates

15 Feb 2017

Rights of persons with disabilities are high on the radar in the USA, as questions were raised about the new US Department of Education secretary, Betsy DeVos's, whose priorities were examined (Is Betsy DeVos against enforcing disability rights laws — or does she not understand them?). In addition, 'Disabled, Shunned and Silenced in Trump's America' gives a poignant, personal reaction to discovering that the Disabilities section of the US White House website had been removed. At the same time, a Federal complaint alleges school district website 'inaccessible' on the west coast of the USA, alleging that the Palo Alto school district's 'recently redesigned website are [sic] not accessible to people with vision impairments and other disabilities'. Another article, Dear anti-Trump protesters: don’t forget those of us with disabilities highlights the particular difficulties persons with disabilities face when trying make their voices heard.

13 Feb 2017

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, said he is 'particularly concerned at the tightening of the space for free speech at a time where its promotion and protection should be of the utmost importance', referring the ongoing cut in Internet services to English-speaking sections of Cameroon. While he continues to monitor the situation, he has urged the government of Cameroon to restore Internet services immediately, to comply with international law and human rights.

9 Feb 2017

An article about corporate responsibility in Quartz Media, In the fight against government-ordered Internet blackouts, where are Africa’s mobile providers? uses the example of Cameroon's English-speaking region Internet blockage to ask about the role that mobile providers play and should play in these situations, especially given the high prevalence of mobile use in Africa. The article states 'There should be more to being a telco license holder than just expanding service delivery and faster internet speeds.' and then asks 'Will Africa’s mobile service providers be willing to take up the corporate social responsibility they have to the customers they serve?' This question can be asked in a global context as well, as mobile Internet is also affected, as seen in the case of Nagaland, where mobile services (both SMS and internet/data) remain suspended since January 30.

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Internet access is growing rapidly, yet large groups of people remain unconnected to the Internet. As of 2015, about 43% of people had access to the Internet (in developing countries only 34%). Access to ICTs is part of the Sustainable Development Agenda, which commits to ‘significantly increase access to ICTs and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020’ (Goal 9.c).

 

Internet interconnection and Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

The Internet consists of thousands of networks. In order to exchange data between users, these networks need to connect with one another. Internet access therefore depends on reliable, efficient and cost-effective interconnections between networks. The interconnections are achieved by voluntary and independently negotiated agreements between network operators.

To connect to Internet networks, users and companies pay Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for Internet access and services. Typically ISPs have to cover the following expenses from the fees collected:

  • Cost of telecommunication expenses and Internet bandwidth to the next major Internet hub.
  • Cost of IP addresses obtained from regional Internet registries (RIRs) or local Internet registries (LIRs). An IP address is needed by a device to access the Internet.
  • Cost of equipment, software, and maintenance of their installations.

Increasingly, the Internet access business is complicated by regulatory requirements of governments such as data-retention. More regulation requires more expenses which could be either passed to Internet users through subscription or buffered by reduced profit for the ISPs.

Internet exchange points (IXPs)

One way in which access can be improved is the introduction of Internet exchange points (IXPs). IXPs are usually established to keep Internet traffic within smaller communities (e.g. city, region, country), avoiding unnecessary routing over remote geographical locations. As IXPs keep local Internet traffic within the country, the usage and costs of international bandwidth can be reduced, which makes access more affordable. Still, many developing countries do not have IXPs, which means that a considerable part of Internet traffic is routed through another country. Various initiatives seek to establish IXPs in developing countries.

Universal access

Universal access is a frequently mentioned concept in relation to the development debate. Although it is agreed to be the cornerstone of any digital development policy, differing perceptions and conceptions of the nature and scope of policies aiming at universal access remain. The question of universal access at the global level remains largely an open issue, and depends mainly on the readiness of developed countries to invest in the realisation of this goal, as well as on policy environment in developing countries. Still, the importance of universal access is agreed on in many international documents, such as the WSIS+10 Outcome Document.

Recently, many initiatives have formed, often through public-private partnerships, to increase Internet access. These initiatives either focus on the traditional means of constructing cables or refer to less traditional methods, such as building Internet-disseminating satellites and balloons.

Quality of access

The basic ability to connect to the Internet is a precondition for access. Still, the definition of access is believed by some to be significantly broader and should take into account the quality of access. The WSIS+10 Outcome Document pleads in this regard for ‘an evolving understanding of what constitutes access, emphasizing the quality of that access. We acknowledge that speed, stability, affordability, language, local content and accessibility for persons with disabilities are now core elements of quality’.

A related issue is zero-rating; the provision of free-of-charge, ‘basic’ Internet services to end users. Several major service providers have partnered with mobile network operators to deliver these low-data-usage versions of services. Although zero-rating practices are able to guarantee affordable access, opponents of zero-rating claim that it requires discrimination among online content and that it violates the fundamental principles of net neutrality. Furthermore, it can raise development concerns, since it gives preferential treatment to dominant web services compared to local competitors.

Development and economic issues

Other development and economic issues affect access. Among them is the question of redistribution of revenue generated by the Internet. On one hand, telecommunication operators aim for higher income, arguing that they need to invest in the upgrading of the telecommunication infrastructure. On the other, content companies - the main beneficiaries of the Internet boom - argue that access providers already charge end users for Internet access. A related issue concerns over-the-top services: in several of countries, national regulators are faced with the question of how to regulate these services, amid increasing pressure by operators. The economic model of connectivity has also been challenged. Since the Internet model places the burden on one end, many developing countries have been complaining about the unfavourable economic conditions of the Internet economy. These issues are described in more detail in other sections on development and economic issues.

Events

Instruments

Judgements

Case of Barbulescu v Romania - European Court of Human Rights (2016)

Resolutions & Declarations

IPU Resolution on the Contribution of new information and communication technologies to good governance, the improvement of parliamentary democracy and the management of globalization (2003)

Recommendations

Other Instruments

Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (WSIS) (2005)

Resources

Articles

Bridging the Digital Divide in the EU (2015)

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Papers

Piloting the use of Deliberative Polling for Multistakeholder Internet Governance

Reports

Global Information Technology Report 2016 (2016)
Enabling Growth and Innovation in the Digital Economy (2016)
One Internet (2016)
Advancing Digital Societies in Asia (2016)
UNCTAD B2C E-commerce Index 2016 (2016)
The Economic Impact of Rural Broadband (2016)
Internet for All: A Framework for Accelerating Internet Access and Adoption (2016)
A Pre-Feasibility Study on the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway in the ASEAN Sub-region: Conceptualization, International Traffic & Quality Analysis, Network Topology Design and Implementation Model (2016)
The Digital Economy & Society Index (DESI) 2016 (2016)
State of Connectivity 2015: A Report on Global Internet Access (2016)
Digital Inclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean (2016)
Closing the Coverage Gap: Digital Inclusion in Latin America (2016)
Smartphone Ownership and Internet Usage continues to climb in Emerging Economies (2016)
A New Regulatory Framework for the Digital Ecosystem (2016)
Proliferation of Indian Languages on Internet (2016)
2016 Digital yearbook (2016)
Connectivity: Broadband Market Developments in the EU (2016)
NI Trend Watch 2016 (2015)
Measuring the Information Society 2015 (2015)
The 2015 BCG e-Intensity Index (2015)
UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030 (2015)
Freedom on the Net 2015 (2015)
The Mobile Economy - Arab States 2015 (2015)
Women's Rights Online: Translating Access into Empowerment (2015)
Mobile for Development Impact (2015)
Global Internet Report 2015 (2015)
The Global Information Technology Report 2015: ICTs for Inclusive Growth (2015)
Local World - Content for the Next Wave of Growth (2014)
Renewing the Knowledge Societies Vision for Peace and Sustainable Development (2013)
The Relationship between Local Content, Internet Development and Access Prices (2013)
Smart Policies to Close the Digital Divide: Best Practices from Around the World (2012)

GIP event reports

Report for ITU CWG-Internet - 4th Physical Open Consultation Meeting (2017)

Other resources

The Digital Economy & Society Index (2016)
Action Plan to Close the Digital Gender Gap (2015)

Processes

Sessions at IGF 2016

Sessions at WSIS Forum 2016

Sessions at IGF 2015

IGF 2016 Report

 

Internet access and connecting the unconnected (Dynamic Coalition on Connecting the Unconnected) was one of the main themes at the IGF 2016 in Guadalajara. The topic was approached from various angles, one of which was community networks, which was dis- cussed by a new Dynamic Coalition on Community Connectivity, as well as in pre-events and workshops. Challenges and opportunities to access were broken down for: different regions, such as Latin America (The right to access the Internet in Latin America - WS266) and Asia (Asia and the Next Billion: Challenges in Digital Inclusion - WS14); several digital divides, with a focus on connecting gender (Best Practice Forum on Gender & Access), minorities (Lighting Session on Human Rights Online: Internet Access and Minorities), and persons with disabilities (Dynamic Coalition on Accessibility and Disabilities); as well as for specific technologies and initiatives, such as open source (Open Source: A Key Enabler on the Path to the Next Billion - WS21), Wi-Fi (Public Wi-Fi/Open Access Models in Developing Countries - WS161), and public access in libraries (Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries). In addition, there was consensus that meaningful access is more than infrastructure alone; it includes affordability, capacity (Building ‘Demand-Side’ Capacity for Internet Deployment - WS9), and local content (Local content and sustainable growth - WS22) with linguistic diversity (Enhancing Linguistic and Cultural Diversity in Cyberspace - WS19). The notion that there should be no ‘Internet for the poor’ enjoyed widespread agreement, with zero-rating practices being criticised.

Throughout the different sessions on development and accessibility, the need for collaboration was highlighted, especially with regard to public-private partnerships; the importance of coordinating between the many existing initiatives was emphasised. Responding to the latter, coordination initiatives such as Global Connect (Advancing Solutions for Connectivity: Improving Global Coordination and Collaboration) and EQUALS (Open Forum: UN Women - OF30) were presented. The interconnectedness between issues was also explored; for example between access, net neutrality, and privacy (Dynamic Coalition on Net Neutrality); between connectivity, development, and human rights (Linking Connectivity, Human Rights, & Development - WS234); and between markets, access, and human rights (Markets, Communities and Public Policies for Access and HR - WS98). As one speaker explained (Main session on Human Rights: Broadening the Conversation) in relation to economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCRs), ‘the 2030 Development Agenda provides an opportunity to put these rights at the heart of Internet governance’.

WSIS Forum 2016 Report

 

Nearly half of the global population still lacks broadband Internet access, while the importance of the Internet in society has grown. The whole planet should work hand-in-hand to permit everybody to have a fair share of this latest revolution, which would require the support of all relevant stakehold-ers (session 225 on the Global Connect Initiative). Governments not only need to put in place effective policies, but they should also change their per- ception of broadband, recognising it as a core infrastructure that is as important for economic growth and development as the transportation and power infrastructures.

Action Line C6 (Enabling Environment) - Affordable Access for Sustainable Development (session 119) highlighted the need to adopt the right policy and regulations. The affordability of the Internet and related regulations was analysed from the viewpoints of different regions, including West Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific. The session further underlined the importance of collaborations between governments and the industry. Affordability was also highlighted during the WSIS Action Line Facilitators Meeting (session 236) and solutions might be found in enhancing mobile infrastructure.

The digital divide, separating those connected to the Internet and those who lack Internet access, exists between countries and regions, as well as between different groups in society. Action Line C2 (ICT Infrastructure) - Evolving Affordable Broadband Infrastructure for Bringing ICT to All (session 121) indicated some of these divides, including the rural vs urban divide and the divide between developing and developed countries. The challenge of enhancing Internet connectivity in Africa, in particular related to infrastructure and multistakeholder collaboration, was highlighted in WSIS+10 and Beyond: Where do we Stand in Africa? (session 140). Accessibility was also discussed from a human rights perspective.

One particular part of the ‘access’ debate concerns the need for access to information. In Establish an Inclusive, Shared and Open Information Environment, Ensure All Enjoy Information Civilization (session 184), panellists discussed ways to have everyone benefit from communication facilities, including the elderly and disabled persons. Access to knowledge was also addressed in Action Line C3 (Access) - Access to Scientific Knowledge (session 115), which focused on scientific knowledge and the need to break down ‘knowledge monopolies’.

In general, the forum highlighted not only that governments have a responsibility to design effective policies and provide a suitable regulatory environment, but that the Internet industry can also play an important role by designing new business models and crafting innovative ideas. The underlying sentiment was that efforts to increase access and close the digital divide are driven by a wide range of stakeholders who need to create an enabling environment, so that everyone can benefit from the advantages of connectivity. 

IGF 2015 Report

 

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provided the overall context for discussions at this year’s IGF. In the Opening Session, most speakers emphasised the fact that an open, free, and neutral Internet would empower sustainable development. In particular, Goal 9 of the agenda sets an ambitious target to ‘significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020’.

Access to the Internet is the main operational issue on sustainable development and the Internet. Technical infrastructure is necessary but is not a sufficient condition for full access to the Internet. As was indicated during Freedom of Expression Online: Gaps in Policy and Practice (WS 153), full affordability and accessibility requires a proper legal, economic, and social context. Users need skills in order to benefit fully from access to the Internet. On the economic aspect, the Broadband Commission’s 2015 targets suggest that the Internet is affordable if the cost of the access is not more than 5% of average monthly income.

The lack of data on the volume and cost of international traffic is a major problem for many policymakers in developing countries, as was indicated during Economics of the Global Internet (WS 207). Access has a high gender aspect as the World Wide Web Foundation’s recent report shows that women in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and South America are 50% less likely than men - with the same education, income, and age - to have access to the Internet.

The Roundtable on Small Island Developing States (WS 21) discussed innovative solutions for access to typically geographically remote small island states. The cost of laying undersea cables to serve low populated communities makes access to the Internet not particularly attractive to the corporate sector. The Roundtable discussed the possible use of zero rating services and the impact on small markets.

The issues of access for persons with disabilities, and e- or online (remote) participation are in a state of constant change, making them particularly interesting to follow. They are addressed together here because of their inherent alliance (for example captioning and better tools) in support of strategies and tools that foster greater and more equitable inclusion.
Difficulties for access for persons with disabilities have been brought to the forefront by the work of the Dynamic Coalition on Access and Disability (DCAD) and have the full support of the IGF Secretariat and the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG). Improvement is slow, but constant. DCAD is raising awareness, and assisting organisers, including the IGF Secretariat, to understand and improve strategies, such as expedited access to links for the DCAD and others needing them, and to assist with registration at workshops.

Awareness raising is critical, as shown in the comment made at the NETmundial main session noting that the NETmundial principles make no reference at all to addressing the needs of persons with disabilities. Empowering the Next Billion by Improving Accessibility (WS 253) provided an excellent presentation and discussion of tools that are invaluable for everyone (Skype translator, F123 Initiative) highlighting the unrecognised cross-cutting nature of these issues.

Online participation received little attention as an issue, although the debate in Viable Application & Debate: Online Participation Principles (WS 27) was dynamic and brought out basic issues in black and white. The principles for online participation, developed in successive IGF workshops with global online collaboration, should be widely disseminated for use and comment, and in support of funding for furtherinnovative improvement for inclusive online access.

 

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