This is a transcript from a series of video interviews designed to assess major issues tied to the diffusion of the internet. It is the record of one of many interviews conducted in 2006 with international internet stakeholders from 18 different nations at the world’s first Internet Governance Forum in Athens, Greece. The Athens IGF was the first of five annual global events administrated by the UN to focus on discussion of the overarching issues tied to the future of information and communications technologies. More than 1,200 participants shared information, experiences and best practices.
Hanane Boujemi – Researcher on Internet Governance Policy; associated with the DiploFoundation. Involved in bridging the digital divide and studying the impact of information and communications technologies on development. Based in Morocco.
Q: Who are you representing at IGF?
A: I am representing the DiploFoundation, Malta, and I’m a fellow of its capacity-building program, 2006. It’s about Internet governance and mainly for developing countries and it’s based online so it’s basically an e-learning program. We have participants from different parts of the world including the Far East, North Africa, Europe, the Pacific, and the course is based on a book written by Jovan Kurbalija, who is the director of the DiploFoundation. We had the chance to cover different issues. The course is mainly divided into baskets including the infrastructure basket, social and cultural, economics, dealing generally with all the issues covered in Internet governance, but mainly for developing countries who are in need of Internet governance system.
Q: Has your focus been on developing countries?
A: Yes the main focus was on developing countries, so basically we were participating in and setting up all the issues that we face in our countries and we were sharing knowledge.
Q: Would you mind sharing some of the issues you talked about?
A: The issues were diverse and are different from one part of the world to another. For example the issues of privacy and freedom of expression were more relevant to the Asian parts because we know China is implementing certain regulations concerning freedom of expression on cyberspace. In other countries like those in Latin America, we know that in this part of the world there are some political problems so it was more about policy, and it was like that. The course was divided like that, and everybody has some knowledge to share with the other people. But the main point in the process was to come up with recommendations and opinions as well. How we would shape and how we would be able to establish a policy for Internet governance’s sake. It was exchanges between the students monitored by tutors in order to set up policies for Internet governance. So it was not basically academic.
Q: Of the policies you all discussed which ones were the most realistic and effective?
A: Well, for me and my opinion, it is relevant to speak about Internet governance mainly for developing countries because that’s where you see that there is a discrepancy in many parts. For example, in developing countries they have all sorts of problems including access to information, including affordability. That’s the main issue. I don’t see really to what extent talking about Internet governance is relevant to developed countries.
Q: So instead of seeing Internet governance as censorship you see it as access.
A: Yeah, exactly. So the issues are priorities. Each part of the world has its own priorities. For example, when we speak about Internet governance in the United States it’s completely different from when we speak about Internet governance in Africa. So the Africans have other priorities; they’re still struggling to get the access to information and with the costs as well. And then we speak about policies and how we can regulate the spectrum. But the problem here: we are trying to do this hand-in-hand. Like everything. Like set up the appropriate telecommunication infrastructure, make sure that it is affordable, and at the same time set up the policies in order to regulate the whole spectrum. So as for the Americans, anyway, the North, if you want to make the division the North and the South. So as for the North, there are other priorities like how to make the Internet more, not free but more regulated in a sense that it’s not abused. For example every part has its own priorities.
Q: How do you think the fact that everyone has their own priorities will impact the idea of having multiple stakeholders?
A: Well, if you want to divide the responsibilities of different multi-stakeholders there are three main stakeholders in the Internet governance issues.
There is the private sector, which is an important component because it includes the telecommunication operators and corporations – software corporations. This is the basic because without a computer, without a good internal telecommunications infrastructure there is no access. Without software we won’t be able to have programs in computers.
The second important multi-stakeholder is the policy makers, governments, institutions, I mean official institutions. They are responsible for setting up regulations and legislation for fair use and for regulated use of the Internet.
The third multi-stakeholders are the organizations, and these organizations in my opinion are more involved in capacity-building programs, in raising the awareness of the importance of Internet and its impact on development. So these multi-stakeholders are basically doing the hard job, raising the awareness of the people, making sure that it’s understandable to what extent Internet access can participate in the development of a country.
There was a question that I asked yesterday about to what extent actually the private sector is willing to help in – technically speaking and financially support – least-developed countries to have access to Internet as a basic component, you know, to participate in development. And to what extent the other part, the other important multi-stakeholders – governments, local governments – are willing to set up flexible legislation, in order not to make it not too complex for people to have limitations using the Internet. So the interrelations between multi-stakeholders is complementary. I see that everyone completes every job. Every task of a certain multi-stakeholder completes the others and it relies in one way or another on the work of the others. That’s how I see it.
That’s why some people think that the whole process is too vague. But I see it very clearly; there are three parts, and they can work all together to come up with the final result that makes it more clear. That’s why there is this ambiguity around what Internet governance is, because, I told you before, that there are priorities, everyone has priorities but we still can shape a system—a flexible system—that is covering many areas at the same time, but the parties responsible for making it happen are very clear: governments, private sector, and the last one is the NGO’s.
Q: When you asked this question, what answer did they give you?
A: In fact, my question wasn’t answered. I was expecting an answer actually because all the multi-stakeholders which were supposed to answer this question were present in the panel but nobody could. Nobody could because the private sector, as you know well – telecommunications infrastructure corporations, giant groups that have mainly a business scope in the whole affair – they won’t be able really to finance the digital gap of the African countries or developing countries. Obviously their plans, their agenda is different from what we are looking for as an NGO. So this is very difficult to reach; that’s why discussions are meant to be done. It’s not me [who can do this by myself] I have a proposition for example, but it’s not really affordable…it’s like a dream. It’s not possible. I want to ask for them to go to Zimbabwe to set up networks for free; that’s not possible. That’s why they need to maybe study, you know, to what extent they can help; what are their limitations? You know, so that’s how I see it.
Q: What one key thing would you ask policy makers to do to ensure a positive future for network technology?
A: Well I think that the main issue is that…I would stick to one point. I said that there should be an establishment of flexible procedures. That’s what I prefer, like a resolution, like a recommendation maybe they can take into consideration like set up regulations, but flexible regulations. Don’t limit the choice of the user in terms of freedom of expression, in terms of e-commerce platform, which is flexible for everybody in terms of transactions and all; security issues as well. So that’s how I see it.
Q: Would this flexibility apply to freedom of expression through censorship and control?
A: Yes, even in the transactions. For example I’m expecting an American company to accept transactions from Ethiopia, for example, or give a chance to these people to access as well to these services as well because at that point, today, I don’t think there is any bilateral exchange in terms of transactions between Ethiopia and the United States. Because why? Because there is not enough confidence in the Ethiopian economy as a very, very, on the bottom of the line of economic level worldwide, so that’s why there is no trust between the two countries. Consequently, people from Ethiopia cannot benefit from a commercial exchange with the States for an example; that’s an example. Why? Because of different, other issues. Because Ethiopia, they don’t….I’m just giving an example. There are many countries in the Pacific and in Latin America that suffer from the same limitations.
Q: What is your greatest hope for the future of the Internet?
A: My biggest hope would probably be unreachable because I believe in something…I know that for example, some other countries (as I told you) have priorities; there are many other issues that should be addressed first before talking about Internet access, mainly electricity, health issues, HIV for Africa. You know, there are other priorities. But I believe that Internet access will help a lot in order to bridge the gap, not only in Internet, but bridge the development gap in general. So people, if they have access to Internet, they can generate a lot of benefits.
Q: What is your greatest fear for the future of the Internet?
A: My biggest fear would be that the globalization – making Internet global, like everybody will have access to the Internet – is the costs. And I’m afraid that – I’m not afraid, actually that’s a fact – people who are responsible to provide this access are not willing to sacrifice a lot. They’re not willing to give up their business hopes or business strategies in order to help developing countries to have access to Internet and consequently benefit from it as a major means now to guarantee development. So there is this, the costs of setting up a whole infrastructure, which is a lot of money, I can understand, but at least they can help in reducing the costs for these people to have access to the information, because it’s very important now to have the access to the information first and then, later on, we see other issues.
Q: Describe the future impact of the Internet in one word.
A: The future of Internet is very promising.
Promising…yes. I see a lot of potential in the future of Internet, but it’s obscure as well. It’s not very clear, and the proof is that, here [at IGF], the first meeting in the first discussion I feel that we’re still coming back to what’s being said in Tunisia and Geneva. There was no, I didn’t see any initiative to take all the process one step further until yesterday. That was the opening, and I was expecting what was done from Tunisia to now. I was expecting to see a frame, like a result. But til now [during this conferenct] we didn’t see it. We’ll be discussing the main issues, the main four issues, and we’ll see if people were able in this year to come up with recommendations in order to improve, in order to set up new things. We want to hear new things. I don’t know if all the present multi-stakeholders have this idea in mind, but I’m looking forward to hearing new recommendations for this field.
This video transcript is offered for use under a Creative Commons Noncommercial License allowing no derivative works. Executive producers, Erin Barnett and Janna Quitney Anderson; chief engineer, Bryan Baker; videographers, Barnett and Baker; editor, Barnett.