13 November 2007 – Participants at the Internet Governance Forum, which is meeting in Rio de Janeiro from 12 to 15 November, called today for access for the next billion people.
“ For many countries, especially developing countries, access is the single most important issue ” , said Markus Kummer, the Forum’s Executive Coordinator.
“ The task is now to bring the next billion to the Net ” , Mr. Kummer said. Much progress had been made in the last year in expanding Internet broadband. But the next billion would be a poorer billion, and the development aspects of the Internet would become more prominent.
Helio Costa, Brazil’s Minister of Communications, said an environment of broad and fair competition was essential to bring more people on-line. Efficient regulatory tools could help to stimulate lower access prices and better services.
The availability of infrastructure must come together with low-cost access solutions, Mr. Costa said. But the high costs of international connections was a burden for developing countries, and solutions should be found for routing Internet traffic increasingly closer to the users to reduce prices.
Internet supply was growing, said Jacquelynn Ruff, Verizon’s Vice-President for Public Policy in International Regulatory Affairs, as backbone operators around the world upgraded their networks. In the last 12 months, global Internet bandwidth has risen by 68 per cent, and Latin America was one of the fastest-growing regions, with a rate of 73 per cent. This was the result of investment in infrastructure and services, as capital that could be invested in Internet connectivity was truly global in nature.
The size of local market was a problem for small countries, said Maui Sanford, President of the Pacific Islands Telecommunications Association. But competition could help create regional markets, and many countries had created regional Internet Exchange Points (IEP), through which traffic could be handled without resorting to expensive IEP located in Europe or the United States.
At the afternoon session on diversity, participants stressed the importance of open, non-proprietary standards as well as the use of free and open-source software.
Brazil’s Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil said in the “liquid world” of the Internet “it is as essential to combat piracy as to give free access to all.” The contents that circulated on the Net, and the languages that were its support, made possible diverse economic models and several possibilities of technological development. “With all that, we are faced with the need to establish regulatory mechanisms allowing for
multiple forms and cultures to happen.”
“All ways of living on our planet should be able to use technology to affirm their existence and to enshrine their values” he said. Decisions and procedures for the Web “should reflect the diversity of world’s cultures and knowledge, breaking away with walls that stigmatize cultures and individuals, turning the Internet a way of freedom for the development of humankind.”
David Appesamy, Chief Communication Officer of India’s Sify Ltd., said the “disruptive nature of the Internet” had positive social aspects. Young people were meeting on-line and then asking their parents to “arrange” the marriage. Relationships across castes were mushrooming, as one could not ask on-line the caste to which the interlocutor belonged.
Monthian Buntan, Executive Director of Thailand’ s Association for the Blind, said for persons with disabilities diversity meant accessibility, and their goal was to achieve full Internet accessibility. “The Internet should be a caring, peaceful and barrier-free place,” he said.
Ben Petrazzini, of the International Development Research Centre, said diversity meant localization, and development would not happen without local capacity building. His organization was carrying out a $2 million project in Asia to develop digital content in 11 languages, and a similar project in Africa involving 24 languages. The Portal Mapuche project in Latin America and the Caribbean was helping to create networks of content producers. Languages with limited numbers of speakers were at risk, and a legal agreement on loosening copyright restrictions on material for local language use should be devised.
Some 1,700 participants are attending the Forum. The largest representation is from civil society, followed by governments and the private sector.