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Speeches 4 December 2008

IGF 2008 – Reaching the Next Billion(s)

Contribution by Rajneesh Singh, ISOC, during the access panel on 4 December 2008

Thank you, Madam Moderator. Just in case there’s any doubt, I’m the bald one on the panel when we talk about access, access means a lot of things to a lot of different people. If I — Allow me to call it the access ecosystem. If I sort of run through a few things that come into my mind when I talk about access, you know, they start from access to financial resources, to actually build systems or buy systems. Access to computing skills and education so that one may be able to use a computing device. Access to a lot of power systems which you need to run devices, you need access to a computing device itself, access to provision infrastructure, you need access to the Internet once you have the infrastructure. Then you need access to content to actually use the Internet for something productive.

And then, of course, finally, you need to have access to localized content, which is more and more an important factor when we talk about the next billion and the next billions after that, because they will, as my colleague has said earlier, will not be from urban centers. They may not speak the same languages that we have on the Internet at the moment, so there needs to be some emphasis on that. Now, if access were a Bollywood movie, it would have two villains. One would be bandwidth, or speed. And the second would be the cost of the Internet access for the average user. Who are the heroes? Well, I hope the heroes can be all of us, the stakeholders who are involved in the IGF forum, governments, private sector, civil society, NGOs, anyone who attends this. I hope you can all be the heroes in this drama called “access,” so that we can actually make a difference. Now, if we look at some of the contributing issues that arise or pose issues around access, limited infrastructure and cost are predominantly the main ones which I have talked about. If you look at a typical developing country, you will see that they are very substantial network development enabling centers, but the rural centers always lag behind. They are always linked to national infrastructure. So, again, you will have infrastructure in urban centers, but there is no real national infrastructure which would cross the other part of the country.

And, of course, there are upstream costs. Usually the developing countries pay the most to be able to access the Internet. There are issues of demanding environment. Terrain is always an issue, particularly in Asia and the Pacific. There are issues with power. Power keeps going on and off. That doesn’t help systems running. Then, of course, there are national disasters in areas like the Pacific Islands, which have a major impact on how systems can run. We have rural and remote communities where economic viability to support these communities is always an issue. In developing and emerging countries, we have small commercial markets. There is limited consumer spending issue, so that’s an issue. How much will a person be able to spend to have a service. Then we move on to human resource issues. Often you will see that developing countries have issues with technical and skills management resources, even if they do train up engineers and technicians, sooner or later they migrate to more developed countries to seek greener pastures.

There needs to be a constant education process to see that the skills force, the workforce does remain up-to-date on what’s happening. That comes at a substantial cost. Building for technology for productive use. Yes, you have the Internet, but you also need to be able to navigate the Internet. The Internet has a lot of things on it right now. Some are good, some are bad and some are absolute rubbish. But a user from a developing country needs to have the correct education to be able to recognize threats on the Internet. They need to be able to understand what’s good, what’s bad. They need to not be drawn into phishing scams and issues like that. So there’s a whole lot of education around Internet access, which is very important.

Then, of course, there are regulatory issues. I won’t get into that. I think other colleagues on this panel will cover that in detail. And Mr. Gupta has already talked a few points on this as well. And then, of course, finally there’s always this thing called “political will” where we sometimes do not necessarily have the complete political will to actually affect change. If we get it all right, what does it mean? There are a lot of opportunities that can arise out of good access. I am told I have one minute. So I need to hurry up. Network expansion, more investment opportunities in infrastructure for the private sector, local and regional hubs which could actually help backbone traffic and transit services. There’s content development, infrastructure and hosted services which could come out of it. Outsourcing. And, of course, there are new markets and businesses which could evolve. Take SMSs, for example. In the mobile world, SMS was not a primary design factor, but it has become one of the best revenue (inaudible).

To close, let me ask you some questions. And they go something like this. Are we maximizing what access we have available? Are we putting too much effort into high-speed access when we perhaps can look at some low-bandwidth solutions which are also quite useful in some instances? Are we perhaps too conventional in our thinking? Is there enough incentive to look for innovative approaches to solutions that solve access issues? Are we adequately supporting the research community and industry to make sure they come up with these solutions? Should there be greater support for noncommercial- oriented initiatives, like community networks, for instance? Do we need to have a regulatory scheme in place for them so that that can evolve and grow?

Closing Statement

So I’d just like to pick on a few things. A lot of questions were asked. A lot of statements were made. Anriette, you mentioned the user-centric Internet. The Internet Society talks about the user- centric model or UCI that we refer to. Can I just reiterate that that’s a very important part of how the Internet evolved, how it developed, and how it will continue to evolve and develop in the future. We have — someone also mentioned that today’s content is all user generated. The word user comes in there again. So it’s the user that’s driving the demand for Internet services. Now, having said that, Raul mentioned that the next billion and where are they actually coming from, that’s a very important point. The Internet Society again has been making some efforts into holding regional discussions, and can I just suggest that the IGF, being a global forum, it’s as important to move these discussions at the local and regional level so a bit more can be done. We cannot expect the whole world to turn up to an IGF for various reasons.

If we are able to have regional and nationalized discussions of a similar nature, perhaps a little bit more can be achieved with a lot more participation, because participation is always an issue. Even this IGF has suffered from participation, as we all know, due to various factors. And finally, just I’d like to say that there’s great power in a liberal ICT policy and creating an enabling environment. Recently I red about the XLD program, from what I understand the catalyst for that development was when the government of India deregulated the Wi- Fi industries. Now I understand it has something like 5,000 nodes. So just think about the power that is in having a liberal ICT or telecommunications policy and where that can lead us. With that, thank you.

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