UN-Led Commission Sees Needs In Internet Governance, Science, Technology08/06/2009 by Kaitlin Mara, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a CommentShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate.A commission under the United Nations charged with monitoring progress in improving science and technology in places where access is difficult and capacity to use that access scarce, concluded its recent annual meeting with draft resolutions on internet and society and on development and science. One notes that there is still much work to be done to bridge the ‘digital divide’ that creates disparities in access to information technology and knowledge in the world; the other calls on governments and UN institutions to find innovative ways to support innovative capacity. At the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), which met from 25 to 29 May in Geneva, delegates pondered ways to combat “brain drain” and the need for ever-expanding education in science, technology and related fields, especially in poor and rural areas. They also examined the continued lack of access to the internet, both as the most powerful access tool in the world to reach resources needed for innovation and as a part of an updated mandate for the commission to oversee implementation of a process to expand access.The CSTD, which falls under the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), is a high-level, intergovernmental body. It is mandated to examine science and technology policies and their implications for development, and then formulate recommendations and guidelines for the UN on those matters. Draft resolutions from the commission are sent to ECOSOC for final adoption. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) hosts the commission’s secretariat.The commission, which meets annually, began meeting 1993, and in 2006 was given an additional mandate to review the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) implementation progress.The WSIS was a UN-led process intended to make available universal access to the internet and communications technology; that is, to bridge the increasing divide in access to knowledge as the digital resolution fundamentally changed the functioning of economies with access to it, leaving those without ever further behind.Resolution Neutral On IGFIt was the follow-up evaluation at WSIS that absorbed most conversation at the end of the week, as the commission went into informal talks to hammer out an assessment of progress made on the WSIS, stretching late into the evening on the last days.A key point of contention was language acknowledging the work of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), established by the WSIS for stakeholders to discuss all aspects of governing the online world, from languages to domain names, from online safety to extending internet access. What is unique about the IGF is that it is a multi-stakeholder process, in recognition of the wide variety of stakeholders in the way the internet is managed, including business and civil society.The IGF is a non-negotiating body which has allowed debate to flow freely on issues that might otherwise be too controversial to make discussion possible – such as regulating the internet, or monitoring its users. But some stakeholders would like to see some kind of output from the discussions, for different reasons. The IGF mandate is up on 2010, and if new direction is not given, the forum will cease to meet.At issue with this year’s review was how positively to refer to the IGF’s work to date, according to several sources. It matters because the report is expected to influence the next IGF meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt on 15-18 November, at which the fate of the forum will be decided.Referring to the IGF’s work positively would demonstrate its success and lend support to those entities who want the forum to continue. Those who do not want it to continue in its current form – notably China, according to several sources, who wants an intergovernmental process – preferred to have a more neutral acknowledgement of the IGF work.The final text reads: “Notes the discussions in the IGF as a multi-stakeholder platform on public policy issues related to internet governance which were observed by the UN SG [Secretary General] in his report, expresses appreciation for the work done by the Chair, the Secretariat and the host Governments of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), and looks forward to the convening of the fourth meeting of the IGF in Egypt,” according to a participant.This resolution on WSIS is the second the CSTD has produced. Last year’s, contained in the report of the 2008 CSTD meeting [pdf] noted “with appreciation” all of the IGF’s work, including the multi-stakeholder approach and “innovated platform.”A report from the UN secretary general on WSIS progress was even more encouraging, saying the IGF had “matured in several respects,” allowing for discussions on “politically sensitive issues in a climate of good faith.” That report, released on 13 March 2009, is available here [pdf].It also reported that the digital divide had narrowed in 2008, and that over half of the world’s population had at least some level of connectivity.” Further, 80-90 percent of the world’s population has access to a cellular network, the report said.But problems continue, despite some improvement, because much of the access to the internet that has been achieved has been achieved through dial-up access, the report adds. This is, the report said, “barely powerful enough for e-mail,” and severely limits access to many of the variety of media formats that populate the web.Thus the digital divide is quickly becoming the “broadband divide,” referring to high-speed internet access.And a delegate from Africa during the May CTSD meeting challenged the idea that mobile phones could be used to combat poverty. “I’m not sure we’re living in the same world,” the delegate said. “In an African village with no electricity, where are you going to charge the phone?”Also approved at the CSTD meeting was a mid-term review of the WSIS process, to be done in 2010. This will cover all five years of WSIS implementation.Science & Technology CriticalThe resolution on science and technology for development was adopted with little discussion. It recognises the “critical role of innovation in maintaining national competitiveness in the global economy” and encourages countries to expand capacity for science and technology research through educational opportunities, creative funding strategies, international partnerships, and other means.In the resolution, the commission is charged with being a “torch-bearer for innovation and innovation-oriented planning” which means they should share and analyse data on policy impacts, identify critical gaps, and help identify best practices.The next meeting of ECOSCOC, which will discuss the resolutions of the CSTD, will be 6-31 July in Geneva.Information Sessions Highlight Varying National NeedsEarlier in the week, delegates heard two days of panels, presentations and ministerial roundtables on science, technology and innovation. Audio recordings of the first days’ presentations can be found here.On the third day, delegates heard the national experiences of Ghana, Lesotho, Abu Dhabi, Iraq, Brazil, and Oman. These helped highlight some of the difficulty involved in coordinating science and innovation capacity building.“In Ghana, there is a lack of effective demand for scientists and engineers,” said Alfred Watkins, science and technology programme coordinator at the World Bank. “They get trained, but they don’t find jobs.” Finding ways to fight the ‘brain drain’ of qualified professionals is a big problem. The presentation of Iraq noted that the countries security situation was also causing brain drain.Intellectual property and innovation policy was mentioned several times during the course of these conversations, as countries tried to explore not only the existance, but the contours of the digital and technological divide.Brazil’s presentation mentioned an exploration of open source software as a possible route to increase information access. Austria supported this idea, calling open source “essential for development” as it helps people to understand the software they are using and even build their own.Publicly funded research that is protected by intellectual property amounts to double taxation, said delegate from IT for Change, an Indian advocacy group calling for information technology to be used to aid development. The research was “already paid for by the public, so it should be free.”But South Africa said it was concerned that the outputs of its publicly funded research had been used abroad. “We think it needs to benefit South Africans,” the delegate said, and “therefore needs to be protected.”Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)RelatedKaitlin Mara may be reached at email@example.com."UN-Led Commission Sees Needs In Internet Governance, Science, Technology" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.