WSIS Forum 2021 advocated for Internet Universality to respond to COVID-19

On the occasion of the annual World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum that took place on 5 May 2021, UNESCO organized a session on Advancing Internet Universality for responding to the pandemic and supporting SDGs. The session highlighted the importance of UNESCO’s Internet Universality Indicators (IUIs) in the context of growing access to and use of the Internet, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has increased peoples’ daily use of the Internet to work, learn, socialize, as well as the need for access to public services: the Internet has become a new public space. For that reason, it is essential that countries and citizens are well informed on how the Internet works and develop a governance model to ensure it is safe and inclusive.

At the session, UNESCO’s Internet Universality Indicators (IUIs) were recognized as a holistic tool, relevant to all countries, to assess the various dimensions of Internet development, and to provide practical recommendations on how to enhance its various contributions to responding and recovering from the pandemic.

Ms Oliveira invited all stakeholders to join the Dynamic Coalition of Internet Universality Indicators, and to collaborate to build an Internet based on universal values and principles, also reminding us that “cyberspace is human space, which must be guided by our global human rights framework”.

Drawing on the national experience of the Internet Universality assessment in Kenya in 2019, Grace Githaiga from the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet), stressed the importance of Internet connectivity to address COVID-19 in the country, and pointed out the need for a follow-up study to evaluate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on digital environments. She also invited UNESCO to provide further support to countries that need to update their assessments in the post-pandemic era.

Matthias Kettemann, Head of the Research Program of the Leibniz Institute for Media Research, Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI) was a key lead-facilitator in undertaking the national Internet Universality assessment in Germany. He underlined that “there is a future-oriented dimension regarding sustainability in the IUIs framework that can help formulate better policies for a better future”.

Reaffirming the Internet Society’s commitment to collaborate with UNESCO to advance the IUIs and ROAM principles worldwide, Constance Bommelaer, Area Vice President on Institutional Relations of the Internet Society (ISOC), asserted ISOC’s supports to promote Internet Universality, in particular highlighting the added value of its multi-stakeholder approach, involving actors from all sectors of societies, including the international Internet community.

For media organizations committed to public interest journalism, national assessments assessing the quality of the current digital environment are crucial. This aspect was underlined by Giacomo Mazzone, Representative of the World Broadcasting Union (WBU/EBU) at the Governmental Advisory Committee to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN GAC).

Mira Milosevic, Executive Director of the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), also highlighted the relevance of the IUIs framework in providing insightful evidence on current trends for the media sector, and enhancing the sustainability and viability of public-interest journalism and media. She encouraged UNESCO’s Dynamic Coalition of Internet Universality Indicators to identify and explore synergies with GFMD-led Dynamic Coalition on the Sustainability of Journalism and News Media (DC-Sustainability).

National assessments based on UNESCO’s Internet Universality Indicators are currently rolling out across five continents, generating policy improvements through a multi-stakeholder approach at the national level, and fostering digital collaboration in line with the Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation at the international and regional levels.

All participants agreed that Internet Universality can be achieved through a long-lasting effort and collaboration between all relevant actors and stakeholders to continue shaping a better Internet for all, during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.


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