From commitment to action: breaking barriers to connectivity
Internet and digital technologies have allowed a number of us to make a smooth shift to online learning and remote work. However, a big part of the world’s population has remained excluded from use of the internet.
During the COVID-19 pandemic it has become overwhelmingly evident that reliable internet connection is essential for every human being in the modern world; the ongoing struggle with the virus has forced us to move our lives online. Internet and digital technologies have allowed a number of us to make a smooth shift to online learning and remote work, to continue using public services and to participate in the life of our societies while sitting in front of our computers at home. However, a big part of the world’s population has remained excluded from use of the internet.
A basic internet package should be provided to everyone, said Professor Gilberto Martins de Almeida from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro during a live commentary session from IGF 2021 organised by the Youth IGF.
The importance of internet access was at the heart of many discussions at the UN Internet Governance Forum 2021 in Katowice. One of the main issues discussed was the question of who is responsible for providing people with internet access. Who should be in charge of this? On one hand, there should be a bigger push from governments to finance internet infrastructure. This is often an issue of political will, related to both the geographical deployment of the necessary infrastructure and the availability of credits to allocate for this deployment, together with partnership development.
On the other hand, the private sector is of course interested in making money, but has an important role to play by bringing the internet to the most vulnerable people and difficult-to-access areas. To date this has been done with the help of universal service funds, financed by private sector actors to facilitate the provision of internet access to rural areas for example. Success stories remain limited, however, and the private sector is beginning to show, as has been underlined during the UN IGF 2021, that areas without internet access should first become attractive in terms of market competitiveness, and businesses and internet access will then follow by themselves. Public-private dialogue can be of interest in this context.
Youth IGF at IGF 2021 Live commentary on breaking barriers to connectivity. Day 5. Hosted by Yuliya Morenets. With Prof Gilberto Martins de Almeida, Prof Mikhail Komarov, Anna Krupnik
Could we somehow change the perception of the importance of connectivity if internet access was recognised as a basic human right at a global level?
“Internet access has to be regarded as an essential right,” says Anna Krupnik, a Youth IGF Partner and a member of the ITU Generation-Connect Europe Youth Group, who believes it is especially important for future generations and their well-being.
Nevertheless, simply giving people access to the internet is still not enough: they should be taught the necessary skills to be able to use digital technologies in the right way. Following a talk on capacity-building given at the IGF 2021 by Lidia Stępińska, deputy director of the Department of Foreign Affairs at Poland’s Office of Electronic Communications, Youth IGF Partner and Professor of Higher School of Economics of Russia Mikhail Komarov stressed that this is closely related to the issue of internet access. A lot of people will not be able to participate in everyday life without internet access, meaning they won’t be able to use online tools and services to connect with other people and build social interactions. But even if we have global robust internet connectivity, those without digital skills will be left behind. Youth IGF leaders believe that online safety skills are crucial in this regard too, because they allow people to safely navigate the internet.
The private sector actors present at the “title” IGF workshop organised by ETNO believe that internet deployment in difficult-to-reach areas is impossible without a strong public-private partnership. This point was underlined by Robert Pepper, Head of Global Connectivity Policy and Planning at Meta, in his talk at the IGF 2021. Pepper said that a multi-stakeholder public-private partnership is needed if we are to eliminate barriers to connectivity.
But, as Youth IGF founder Yuliya Morenets pointed out during a podcast briefing from Day 5 of the IGF 2021 in Katowice, this cannot truly take the interests of all stakeholders into account unless the young are able to share their voice. Young people can participate in a public-private partnership as a part of advisory groups by giving recommendations to policymakers and bringing new ideas to the table.
According to Lucien Castex, a Representative for Public Policy at Afnic, the pandemic has made us realise not only the importance of digital transformation, but also the acute need for digital inclusion.
Young people should be a key part of the discussions here.