IEEE representatives participated in the 12th annual Internet Governance Forum, held 18 to 21 December in Geneva. Established by the U.N. secretary-general, the IGF convenes leaders from academia, government, industry, civil society, and the technical community who are representing their institutions.
In its third year attending the IGF, IEEE joined more than 2,000 participants from 142 countries and played a key role in guiding discussions on the intersection of Internet-related public policy and technology. The forum presents IEEE with the opportunity to exchange information and explore partnerships that can help connect the more than half of the global population that remains unconnected to the Internet.
“Online access can connect local communities to services such as educational and economic growth opportunities,” said IEEE Member Deepak Maheshwari, chair of the IEEE Internet Initiative. “But to make the Internet vibrant, affordable, and valuable for all, we need to collectively address challenges such as improving communications infrastructure and services, identifying new innovative business models, building digital literacy skills, and informing policy discussions.”
ADVANCING THE DIALOG
As a pre-event held 17 December, IEEE hosted the working session “Working Toward Universal Access: Educate, Engage, and Empower” with the World Economic Forum. IEEE’s Internet inclusion global working groups were joined by IEEE Fellow Vint Cerf, founder and chair of the People Centered Internet, which aims to bring access to the world. They guided discussions focused on digital literacy; public access; community networks; new models for financing connectivity; evidence-based research; connectivity and energy; and the digital gender divide. The session report includes Cerf’s answers to participants’ questions about universal access to the Internet.
At the forum, Maheshwari moderated an IEEE-organized roundtable discussion, “Internet Inclusion Solutions: Shaping the Digital Future,” with participants from One World Connected, IEEE SIGHT (Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology), the Internet Society, and the Web Foundation. Each group shared regional perspectives and case studies on meaningful and sustainable programs shaping the digital future of communities.
This year three volunteers from the IEEE Tunisia SIGHT team, Graduate Student Member Samar Baba and Student Members Ichrak Mars and Ines Tlili, represented IEEE as IGF Fellows. During a panel session, they shared success stories about their real-world Internet inclusion project. Baba described how IEEE SIGHT has been working to provide Internet access to schools in rural areas in Tunisia through its Tawasol project. She stressed the importance of Internet accessibility, because it could help create job opportunities in her country. Only 40 percent of Tunisian schools and universities have access to the Internet.
In the IEEE forum “Building Blocks of Trust for a Sustainable, Evolving Internet,” moderated by Senior Member Greg Shannon, vice chair of the IEEE Internet Initiative, Mars expressed her concern that many Internet users are unaware that companies are collecting their online data. Member Marina Ruggieri, IEEE Internet Initiative liaison and 2017 vice president of IEEE Technical Activities, shared that trust can be addressed only if matters of ethics and privacy are considered. She suggested information and communication technology professionals can lead the way by incorporating ethics and privacy considerations in their work. She expressed optimism in the future of the Internet and in the role of Gen Z—people born in the mid-1990s—to lead the way.
A workshop by the Technology Education Institute, “Two Networks Will Shape Your Digital Future,” explored the opportunities and benefits of deploying Internet and energy access simultaneously where both are needed. Bill Ash, strategic technology program director of the IEEE Standards Association, noted both are equally important. He highlighted IEEE Smart Village projects in Cameroon, Haiti, India, and Nigeria that have provided power, education, training, and employment opportunities while helping to reduce the digital divide. He noted the costs of deployment are based on economies of scale and noted that having similar standards for equipment can reduce overall costs.
Nilmini Rubin, who leads the IEEE Internet Initiative working group on energy and connectivity along with Cerf and IEEE consultant Manu Bhardwaj, elaborated on the importance of a financial network, which is necessary to produce the required benefits of expanding both energy and communications technology.
IEEE representatives also participated in the Bytedance workshop “Social Responsibility and Ethics in Artificial Intelligence,” the U.S. Council for International Business’ workshop “Realizing Sustainable Development Goals Through Policies Enabling Digital Trade,” and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development workshop “AI: Intelligent Machines, Smart Policies.”
To reap the benefits and ensure no one is left behind, actions are needed in many areas: ensuring access to digital infrastructures and technologies, developing the capacities of individuals and companies to use digital technologies, and putting policies in place to support innovation and growth.
A U.N. press service report, “Internet Governance Forum Explores Socio-Economic and Labor Impacts of Digital Transformation,” summarized an IGF session in which IEEE contributed to a segment on digitization, automation, and employment Issues. The session’s underlying message was that digitization brings benefits to society and advances growth and development. But it also comes with challenges.
Videos from the forum can be found on the IEEE Internet Initiative website.
Karen McCabe is IEEE’s senior director of technology policy and international affairs, in Piscataway, N.J. She leads the organization’s partnerships with the United Nations and other international bodies, with a focus on engagement of the technical community and the intersection of policy and technology in information and communication technologies. She is a member of the Internet Society and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Internet technical advisory committee.