Reaching the Next Billion

Reaching the Next Billion

The 2008 meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was held in Hyderabad, India from December 3rd to 6th. This year’s central theme was ‘Internet for All’ and the meeting focused on three main discussion areas: reaching the next billion, promoting cyber security and trust, and managing critical internet resources. These were followed by sessions on emerging issues, and the way forward.

The IGF is a platform for fostering a continuing dialogue on world Internet governance. The forum was established by the UN in 2006 to support its mandate from the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Since then, the IGF has held three meetings, one each in 2006, 2007, and 2008. One of the staples of the forum is its multi-stakeholder approach through which it aims to bring together representatives from governments, the private sector and civil society, and representatives from the academic and technical communities to jointly discuss policy issues surrounding Internet governance.


One of this year’s focuses was discussing how Internet governance policy should help extend the Internet to reach the “next billion” users. Two main panel sessions were held under this heading. The first panel addressed the need to continue to make the Internet more multilingual. In particular the panel discussed the need to provide content in local languages, the localization and availability of tools, and the internationalization of identifiers.

The second session centered on issues of access. Here, many of the panelists focused on the need for policies that encourage competition in the marketplace to reduce costs including reducing barriers to entry, friendly spectrum allocation policy, and encouraging infrastructure sharing. However, during the discussion portion, other attendees raised concerns whether encouraging competition alone was sufficient. They wanted to discuss to what degree access should be viewed as a public good/right and whether policies going beyond encouraging competition, like public investment, need to be pursued to promote access.

While the session focused on access in developing countries and markets, the policy debate is also relevant to setting policy in developed countries like Canada. Canada has its own unique issues to deal with concerning access, including remote communities and access by aboriginal communities. The level of competition in Canada’s telecom sector has been frequently discussed, but what other types of policies should Canada take to encourage access? To what degree should we view the Internet as a public good and how should we be investing in access in this country? Is creating access through libraries and other public spaces enough or are deeper infrastructure investments needed? These policy questions need to continue to be discussed as we need to make sure that reaching the ‘next billion’ includes reaching all Canadians.  

With the incoming new administration in the US, these issues have been getting some new attention south of the border.

You can check out transcripts of the main IGF sessions here.