Recognizing WSIS Impacts

Unless it acknowledges key characteristics of the Internet, the World Summit on the Information Society will easily undermine it

Synopsis of the Opinion

On the Opinion on Recognizing the Internet in the Information Society

The Opinion on Recognizing the Internet in the Information Society was submitted in January 2013 to the US Delegation and in February to the Informal Experts Group preparing the Secretary-General’s Report for the World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum on May 14-16, 2013.

The Opinion observes that the framing documents issued by the World Summit for the Information Society make very little use of the term “Internet,” and almost entirely use the term “ICTs” instead.  It also observes that the ITU Resolutions that provide the topical context for the WTPF make extensive use of other terms such as “Telecommunications/ICTs,” “IP-Based Networks,” and “Next Generation Networks.” This pattern also applies generally to the 2010 WTDC and Plenipotentiary resolutions according to which the ITU is helping implement the WSIS project.

The Opinion notes that both public policy decisions and particular technical systems deployed within World Summit for the Information Society initiatives have the potential to undermine the nature of the Internet platform and stresses that key characteristics that distinguish the Internet must  be articulated, thereby allowing the impact of WSIS initiatives on the special nature and strengths of the Internet to be recognized and addressed.

It calls attention to the need to assure that both the governance and development contexts can readily recognize these impacts in order to assure the advantages of the Internet are not overlooked without recognizing the tradeoffs that may be brought by various other technological solutions.

It proposes the following key characteristics to help provide the basis for determining when Information Society initiatives relate to the Internet or not, whether for better or for worse:

  • that it is defined in terms of principles of interoperation between networks,
  • that the resulting platform is a general purpose platform,
  • that it is available as a general purpose platform to end users, and
  • that it enables general purpose connectivity directly between end users throughout the globe (or beyond), to all other networks that interoperate on the same terms.

While it illustrates how terms that may mislead are being used in the founding documents and the implementing resolutions of the Information Society, the Opinion also provides brief clarifying references addressing how a failure to delineate the Internet in its own nature will open up the potential for the WSIS to undermine it, from the standpoints of governance, public policy initiatives, and development.

The Opinion notes that almost every aspect of the Geneva Action Plan is given in terms of “ICTs,” and has the potential to affect the Internet unless the key characteristics of the Internet are recognized.  These are public policy areas relevant to the Internet which relate to both governance and development.  Recent CSTD proceedings reflect this same pattern of using the general term “ICT’s” and making almost no reference to the Internet as such.

The opinion acknowledges that not all governments will offer communications that qualify as Internet, and some governments will wish to provide for full Internet connectivity, even as inter-governmental and national policies, including those contributing to the enabling environment for fostering telecommunications/ICT development, as well as particular technological solutions promoted, may diverge from the characteristics that define the Internet.  It observes that recognizing these modalities can be a way to facilitate “enhanced cooperation” as a mode of inter-governmental policymaking.

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