Wednesday, September 5, 2007

WSIS 2003: A Forum for 'Democracy' !

The negotiations at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in December 2003 proved to be a loss for the third world nations. This is because: 1. A mutually convenient alliance of powerful governments blocked action to tackle the erosion of civil and human rights in electronic space; 2. The United States did not provide support for development-friendly, free, and open-source software; and 3. Community-driven and decentralized approaches for access to and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) did not find much importance. However, there was the call to reroute huge volumes of Internet traffic generated in Southern nations internally instead of via the United States. There was acceptance of the idea of an open archive for scientific research, and there was agreement on the development of regional strategies for the information society, during the WSIS 2003. The wealthy nations from the North could not decide that the “digital divide” is reinforcing educational, income and health divides instead of alleviating them. A decision on the Digital Solidarity Fund demanded by poorer countries was postponed (rather than rejected outrightly) only in order to prevent a collapse of the summit.

It is well known that the “official” debate on the information society (then called the “post-industrial society”) dates to the early 1970s. During that era, academics demonstrated that information workers had become the largest block of workers in wealthy countries, that an “intellectual technology” infrastructure was emerging alongside industrial infrastructure, and that increasing numbers of goods (invisible in nature) were, in fact, “packaged information”. There were also debates surrounding 'information society' and 'technological determinism'. It was in the 1970s, the world for the first time debated and contested the role of communication in society, embracing matters such as media governance, freedom of expression and human rights, spectrum and satellite use, journalism ethics and news, and cultural diversity. During the mid-1990s, the European Union started to launch its efforts to compete with the Global Information Infrastructure of the United States. The importance of private sector as a main actor, while government playing merely a facilitating role was uncritically adopted in the new vision. After this model reached its limit, in 2002, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reported that the growth rate in new telephone lines (still the basic means for people to access the information society) had for the first time came down, and that, with half the world’s telecom operators in private hands, most of the “easy” privatizations had already occurred. The telecom sector failed to cater the needs of the mass of people with less income in the backdrop of massive privatization. A narrow profit-driven agenda and the absence of effective universal-service policies left the majority of poorer (resource poor) people with little prospect of joining this information society. The WSIS December, 2003 was a platform where the rich and the powerful nations decided not to move away from the prescribed model. Hence, the Digital Solidarity Fund was not created. Many NGOs attending the WSIS in Geneva in December 2003, brought issues like: concentration of media ownership and its focus on profits, the ever-lengthening duration of copyright and exceptionally powerful criminal laws to enforce it, the commercialization of knowledge creation to WSIS etc. When issues raised by the NGOs was not accepted, they produced their own Civil Society Declaration. However, WSIS still offers a better platform to raise key issues related to human rights, free speech, open access to information etc. compared to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund etc.
International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has recently released a major publication titled 'Trends in Telecommunication Reform: the Road to NGN' (8th edition), which talks about the trend reports on the evolution of circuit-switched telecommunication into "next-generation" networks, as operators around the world fight to remain competitive. The Report's objective is to enable regulators and policy-makers in developing countries to better understand the changes transforming the ICT sector so that they can evolve their policy and regulatory frameworks to leverage today's technological and market developments.
Next-generation networks (NGN) symbolizes the shift from "one network, one service" approach, to the delivery of multiple services over a single network. Based on the Internet Protocol (IP), NGN builds on the expansion of broadband networks, the rise of Voice over IP (VoIP), fixed-mobile convergence and IP television (IPTV). NGN is regarded as an effective tool to achieve the goals of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), especially to provide universal access to ICT. By enabling new businesses to flourish in rural and urban areas in both developed and developing countries, NGN helps the underdeveloped and developing countries to achieve the broader development goals, promising socio-economic growth, reducing poverty and integrating citizens into the global economy, while preserving and promoting local content and culture. Associated with Internet access at higher transmission speeds than ADSL, NGN will thus facilitate a full range of public services such as e-government and e-health. These new networks are being developed using a number of technologies, including wireless and mobile, fibre and cable, or by upgrades to existing copper lines. While some operators are focused on upgrading their core—or transport—networks to NGN, others are tackling their access networks that reach the end user. Fixed-line operators are facing increased competition from wireless telecommunication operators, providers of cable television networks and large Internet content providers with strong brands and more financial support. The search for new revenue streams from the increasingly popular triple or quadruple play bundled package of IPTV, voice calls and ultra-high-speed broadband Internet access has resulted in the rolling out of fibre networks closer to homes and offices. Operators are seeking to collect advertising revenue from the range of user-generated, social-networking and other content running on ever-higher speed broadband networks, dubbed "ultra broadband" or "broaderband" technology. Simultaneously, mobile operators are upgrading their networks to find new revenue streams fed by offers of seamless connectivity to bandwidth-intensive applications like mobile TV. Developing countries are going for the NGN bandwagon to bridge the digital divide and join the Information Society. The developing countries, however, should not imitate the NGN adoption as the West did, but harness the potential of new technologies to meet their ICT development goals.

This present write up by Shambhu Ghatak is based upon an article by Seán Ó Siochrú, who is a media and communication writer, activist and consultant, and is a spokesperson for CRIS (Communication Rights in the Information Society; see For more info, go to: