This week in New York, the UN General Assembly has organized a High Level Meeting on the Review of WSIS outcomes implementation.
What is WSIS?
For those readers not familiar with it, theWSIS (World Summit on Information Society) developed into two phases:Geneva (2003) and Tunis (2005).
The overall objective of WSIS is trying to cover “an urgent need to harness the potential of knowledge and technology for promoting the goals of the United Nations Millennium Declaration.”
The Geneva Phase was oriented towards development issues and ended with an Action Planstructured around a series of Action Lines.
The CSTD (Commission on Science and Technology for Development), a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN that provides the General Assembly and ECOSOC with high-level advice on relevant science and technology issues, makes an annual evaluation of the WSIS follow up and degree of accomplishment of the WSIS objectives. To do this, the CSTD gathers contributions from member states, enterprises and other entities.
The Tunis Phase was more oriented to Internet Governance issues and included, in the so-called Tunis Agenda, a definition of Internet Governance, the launching of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) as well as the introduction of the Enhanced Cooperation concept, among other things.
2015: the year of the WSIS process revision
The Tunis Agenda established the revision of the whole WSIS process after 10 years of functioning, with the aim of determining how it should continue in the future.
In July 2014, the UN decided that its General Assembly should be responsible for such a revision during “a two-day high-level meeting of the General Assembly (in December), to be preceded by an intergovernmental preparatory process that also takes into account inputs from all relevant stakeholders of the World Summit on the Information Society”.
The whole process began in June when the UN GA Chairman nominated ambassadors Jānis Mažeiks, from Latvia and Lana Z. Nusseibeh, from the UAE as co-facilitators of the process.
Since then, both have coordinated the efforts of the whole community and taking into account inputs coming from all stakeholders (including the one sent by Telefónica in July), have prepared the final outcome document of the WSIS +10 Review.
Their job has been excellent and even if the document contains language not always perfect, we must recognize that the outcome is the best we could have expected given the divergent set of opinions one can find in every subject covered.
There are clear references to intergovernmental processes (¶64) but most important, mentions to the centrality of multilateral and governmental actions in the field of Internet Governance have been deleted, including the intergovernmental character of the enhanced cooperation (¶69). There is a call for the CSTD to establish a working group on Enhanced Cooperation not later than July 2016 which must decide on its modalities and working methods while ensuring “the full involvement of all relevant stakeholders”.
Lastly, on ¶77 the document announces the celebration of another UNGA High Level Meeting (and not a summit as was asked by some governments) in 2025 on the overall review of the implementation of WSIS outcomes with inputs and participation from all stakeholders and with the objective of being a valuable input into the review process of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
From our point of view, it is very positive the explicit reference to the importance of the ICTs for the Sustainable Development Goals and to the need to ensuring the alignment of the WSIS process with the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development (¶10).
There is also text in ¶14 (reiterated again in ¶48) affirming that that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, something that Telefónica always defends.
Our private investment efforts (TELEFONICA alone has over the last 25 years invested more than 120 billion Euros in Latin-America to improve Internet connectivity, making possible that 6 out of the top ten most affordable emerging markets in terms of Internet access are Latin-American, according to the last Internet Affordability Report recently published by the Alliance for an Affordable Internet) are recognized in ¶43 and the need of a transparent, predictable, independent and non-discriminatory regulatory regime as a central factor for creating an enabling environment for the further development of ICTs, is included in ¶34.
Special mention should be made to ¶67 where initial non-balanced language on Net Neutrality has been translated into a much more productive and positive mention to the open nature of the Internet, fully in line to what we, at Telefónica, defend in our well-known Digital Manifesto.
Another positive aspect of the text is the extension of the IGF mandate for another ten year period and the recognition of its role as a multistakeholder platform for discussion of Internet Governance issues (¶68).
As expressed during the intervention of Alfredo Timermans, CEO of Telefónica International USA, during the HL Meeting, Telefónica agrees with the need to Connect all to the Internet, keep the Internet open and give Internet users the confidence and trust when they make their lives even more digital.
These are the 3 main issues which we will need to tackle going forward. Telefónica thinks that no one on its own will be able to do master that. This is why it is so important that we continue to build the governance of the Internet on a cooperation between all stakeholders.
Governments are a crucial part of that, but we will need the expertise, support and knowledge of all stakeholders if we want to get to the best solutions for our societies and economies. And when we speak about Global Internet Governance, we need to speak about the IGF: it IS the central platform for debate and engagement between all of us. There is simply no other forum which can match the diversity, openness and inclusiveness of the debates on Internet governance. This has been the IGF’s strength in the past 10 years and this should be its role also in the future.
However, we should be aware that it is not a forum for negotiation and is not made to create negotiated policy outcomes between stakeholders.
It was the enthusiasm and participation of all stakeholders, the investments by private companies and the energy of many individuals that has created the Internet as we know it today. As it evolves, it is obvious that also our governance processes need to evolve and improve. This WSIS Outcome document is a good basis for the development of the Internet Governance System.