UN official stresses the need for equal access to the Internet as landmark conference ends

2 November 2006

After intensive workshops, seminars and discussions focused on all aspects of the worldwide net, the first ever Internet Governance Forum ended today with a senior United Nations official telling the 1,200 participants that the issue of global equity was key to making the best use of this new technology.

The Internet should be “accessible, usable and safe for all,” Nitin Desai, the Special Adviser for the Secretary-General on Internet Governance said at the end of the four-day event in Athens, which dealt with freedom of expression, access, multilingualism, cyber-crime and a host of other issues.

“The focus was very much on equity”, he said, referring to the eight main sessions and more than 30 workshops attended by the representatives from Government, information technology firms, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Internet community.

“All of these are essentially discussions about equity… an issue of equity of access has developed, which we need to address,” Mr. Desai added, looking ahead to the next Forum that will take place in Rio de Janeiro in November 2007.

One of the key issues raised during the four days was the tension between relying on market forces and focusing on the “public good” nature of the Internet, he said.

Participants had argued that because the Internet was a medium where innovation took place at the edges, there was a need to keep a structure that allowed innovation without excessive central control, “otherwise,” said Mr. Desai, “the medium will stop developing.”

The Forum, which is not a decision-making body, grew out of the 2003 and 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), during which the contentious issue of Internet Governance was one of the most widely debated. As a result, Heads of State and Government asked Secretary-General Kofi Annan to set up the Forum.

In his speech opening the Forum on Monday, Mr. Annan pointed out that with “more than 1 billion users worldwide and still growing dramatically,” the Internet has “become too important, for almost every country’s economy and administration, for Governments not to take an interest.”

 

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