WSIS Forum: Support For General Assembly Decisions On Internet Governance 03/05/2016 by Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (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)Support from information and communication technology for implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030 is the programmatic topic of the first post-WSIS+10 edition of the World Summit Information Society Forum (WSIS Forum), taking place this week. ITU Secretary General Houlin Zhao addresses the WSIS Forum Structurally, the new WSIS Forum wants to be more about dialogue and less about government speeches. Officially opened today in Geneva by International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary General Houlin Zhao, the Forum nevertheless still lacks some interactivity, for example when it comes to its sister, the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The close alignment of the re-mandated WSIS Forum with the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) processes was mentioned by Zhao in his opening speech in Geneva as making WSIS 2016 crucial. The WSIS Forum is taking place at the ITU from 2-6 May. Archived sessions are available here. With the next 10-year mandate for the Forum granted by the UN General Assembly in December, the Forum can go back to work on implementation, explained participant Constance Bommelaer, senior director for global internet policy at the Internet Society. But what can the Forum achieve? Numbers, and Half-Full/Half-Empty Glasses ITU Secretary General Zhao in his opening speech touted record figures for WSIS Forum 2016. Some 1,800 participants from 140 countries, 85 ministers and 250 high-level representatives, more than 150 sessions and over 100 workshops are underway during the week, according to ITU. Zhao is an organiser of the WSIS Forum together with the heads of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the UN Development Programme (UNDP). “It is,” Zhao underlined, “the only event of this kind where the agenda and program are prepared through an open consultation process.” Zhao did not mention that the pioneering venture on broad open program consultations had in fact been the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The WSIS Forum is a focal point for UN ICT activities, with many more UN organisations collaborating in setting up the WSIS Forum, including WIPO, UNDESA, FAO, UNEC, WHO, ILO, WMO; ITC, UPU, UN Women, WFP, UNODC and the UN Regional Commission. Drawing a conclusion from the first ten years of WSIS Forum efforts, this year’s Forum Chair, Daniel Sepulveda, US deputy assistant secretary in the US State Department Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, said access to advanced technologies has grown dramatically since the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015). “A big part of our conversation during the WSIS+10 review was the degree to which the glass was half full or half empty,” Sepulveda said. “And there were varying views.” But a consensus was that “we want to see the glass completely full,” he said. With the new UN SDG target to “provide universal and affordable access to the internet in least developed countries by 2020,” much more has to be done, even in the United States, he said. Sepulveda reported that his government is “heeding the SDG call to action” with the Connect ALL Initiative in the US and the Global Connect Initiative globally. One shall “help Americans, at every income level, get online” and realise “connecting 20 million more Americans by 2020.” At the international level, the Global Connect Initiative, aims “to catalyse multi-stakeholder efforts to help bring 1.5 additional people online by 2020.” The WSIS Forum is a platform for discussion and sharing of best practices in the implementation. Pushing for Multi-Stakeholder ISOC expert Bommelaer told Intellectual Property Watch that one major contribution the WSIS Forum could make in her opinion is not only to measure progress, but to start “developing reliable indicators” for this progress on the development goals. The community deliberated and found consensus in 2005 and 2015 on policy goals and on action lines. “But surprisingly, we do not have indicators to assess progress to reach those goals,” she said. The ITU is nurturing this strain of work with tools like a “WSIS-SDG Matrix” developed by the so-called WSIS Action Line Facilitators, which it hopes will “serve as the key mechanism for mapping, analyzing and coordinating the implementation of WSIS Action Lines and the use of ICTs as enablers and accelerators of the SDGs.” But what the WSIS Forum is not about, Bommelaar said, is producing outcome documents. This in fact remains something the re-mandated IGF could start to do, the policy expert considered. While official speakers during the WSIS Forum opening today did not mention the IGF and the relation of the two fora that to the outsider look more and more alike, Bommelaer thinks there is a rather clear distinction: “The WSIS Forum is interesting and very useful, but the IGF is the one that is the most bottom-up multi-stakeholder.” At the same time, the multi-stakeholder concept has despite opposition from some governments standing been gaining ground, she pointed out. Bommelaer noted that after 10 years, the multi-stakeholder concept has even infected the classical intergovernmental culture. An example was the opening up of the ITU Council, the governing body of the 150 years old intergovernmental institution, to non-governmental parties in its upcoming session in June. “The WSIS Forum and Internet Governance Forum are pursuing complementary goals,” Philipp Metzger, director of the Swiss Office of Communication, told Intellectual Property Watch. The WSIS Forum is important as coordinator of the work UN agencies, acting as “action line facilitators.” The IGF with its “policy shaping” task was a pioneering new effort in the UN, he said. Concrete Action, Please Besides much applause for the convening of the WSIS Forum and much optimism on next steps, there were also some voices calling for more concrete steps and some who warned against a deteriorating situation of human rights violations. The head of the Polish Telecom Regulatory Body, Magdalena Gaj, underlined that 60 percent of people are still offline and many countries still struggle with basic challenges. She challenged the represented administrations on longstanding commitments unfulfilled, for example with regard to gender equality. Participating in the WSIS Forum for eight years, “each and every time I hear the same story, that it is important to reduce the gender gap,” she said. Pointing to a program in Poland, she called for real action and recommended to bring, for example, young women from developing countries into ICT companies. “We have the power to make a difference,” she declared. Gaj also addressed the cybersecurity issues, besides access and multi-stakeholderism one of the focal points of the new WSIS. A call for a change in the way science and academia has worked came from Heide Hackmann, executive director of the International Council for Science. “Despite the wealth of scientific knowledge, we have taken very small steps towards the kind of sustainable development that back in 1986 was outlined in the report and in the Agenda 21 adopted at Rio in 1992,” she warned. The failure to act on this in time had resulted in growing exposure to threats and a need for urgent action now, Heider said. Science therefore has to make a more immediate impact on real world problems. For the necessary collaboration and co-designing effort, researchers desperately need open access and open data policies. 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