Internet for All - Exploring a Rights-based Approach

6 December 2008 - A Workshop on Access in Hyderabad, India

Agenda

Internet for All is the proposed theme for the IGF, Hyderabad and is adapted from UNESCO’s ‘Education for All’ initiative. ’Education for All’ takes a rights based approach to education and presents nuanced view the enabling conditions for providing education for all (http://portal.unesco.org/education/en/ev.php-URL_ID=47044&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html ) . The proposed “Internet for All—Exploring a Rights-based Approach” workshop will explore what a ‘Rights-based’ approach to Internet for All (including other related concepts such as e-Inclusion and ‘Universal Service’) would mean and whether it could provide the basis for Internet policy in this area.

Universal service and universal access are widely accepted telecom policy principles. However, these are less clear in area of the Internet where the Internet involves areas of much more active ‘use’ and multi-layered types of interaction and development than the simple connection’ with the telephone. To mention only one aspect of this a draft resolution recommended for ECOSOC by the 11th session of the CSTDhttp://www.unctad.org/sections/wcmu/docs//ecn162008_r004_en.pdf recently noted that ‘a new form of digital divide is emerging in terms of difference in quality and speed of access to ICTs’ (the OECD has also been grappling with definitional issues regarding universal access in terms of the Internethttp://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/32/57/40629067.pdf ).

Other issues to be explored from a ‘rights’ perspective include a determination of the enabling conditions for realizing effective use of the available ‘access’ and the characteristics of the Internet to which one has access. A rights based approach to “Internet for All’ or what may be referred to as a ‘right to the Internet’ may include issues that go beyond mere access as for example the enabling conditions such as training, capacity building and the development of the social, organizational, and managerial infrastructure that can make access meaningful and useful. The “Education for All’ movement recognizes that conditions such as these are pertinent to ensuring education for all beyond simple access to schools..

This corresponds to quality and appropriateness of the substantive content and presentation of the Internet – language including use of non-Roman scripts are of particular significance here and correspond in the ‘education for all’ context to what is spoken of in a recent UNESCO document as ‘the right to learn in the mother tongue’ (http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001297/129728e.pdf).

The WSIS declaration of Principles speaks of an “information society where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information”. Does this translate into a right to do so? What would be the implications of a right on Internet policies, for instance with respect to the network neutrality debate. Similarly, issues such as online security, privacy and FoE may be possible to explore from a rights perspective in the context of the possible significance in enabling or restricting an ‘Internet for all’.

A further set of issues more directly linked to an e-Inclusion definition of ‘Internet for all’ would include groups needing special consideration such as people with disabilities, whose right to access to ‘new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet’ as is recognized by the recently concluded ‘International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’.