This year’s thematic focus for Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch) is “access to infrastructure”. The Geneva Plan of Action that emerged from the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) declared information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure an “essential foundation for the Information Society” and identified it as one of six main action lines.
In spite of this attention, it is beginning to be considered of less importance by some development funders and practitioners, including civil society and communication and information activists.
One of the consequences of this is the development of a conventional wisdom that leaves the domain of infrastructure development to the market; to operators and investors who do not always see the broader social value of communications in society; to governments that lack capacity and often clear strategy; and to international institutions that tend to approach it in a limited and “technocratic” way.
Access to infrastructure is important in its own right. It constitutes the layer that enables communication, and is interlinked with other access challenges such as the capacity to use ICTs, access to content and knowledge, as well as access to public participation and citizenship. In this sense, the overall theme of access to infrastructure links to GISWatch 2007’s focus on access to participation, and is a bridge to GISWatch 2009’s theme of access to knowledge.
GISWatch is both a publication and a process. While producing an annual report which is published in print and online, it also aims to build networking and advocacy capacity among civil society organisations who work for a just and inclusive information society. The number of participating organisations is growing: 38 country reports are published here – 16 more than in our previous edition – analysing the status of access in countries as diverse as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mexico, Switzerland and Kazakhstan.
Besides thematic reports dealing with key issues affecting access, such as net neutrality, open standards, spectrum management, trends in technology and access to content, for the first time GISWatch includes regional overviews for North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, the countries of the former Soviet Union, South-East Asia, and the Pacific.
While focusing on ICTs, GISWatch aims to make a critical contribution to building a people-centred information society. Its purpose is to stimulate a collaborative approach to policy advocacy, and to create a common platform where disparate experiences can be shared, and progress – or lack of progress – assessed. Ultimately, it hopes to impact on policy development processes in countries, regions, and at a global level.
We hope you find GISWatch 2008 thought-provoking and challenging.
Roberto Bissio, Third World Institute (ITeM)
Anriette Esterhuysen, Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Loe Schout, Hivos
|Box 1: Extract from WSIS Plan of Action: ICT infrastructure
C2. Information and communication infrastructure: an essential foundation for the Information Society
9. Infrastructure is central in achieving the goal of digital inclusion, enabling universal, sustainable, ubiquitous and affordable access to ICTs by all, taking into account relevant solutions already in place in developing countries and countries with economies in transition, to provide sustainable connectivity and access to remote and marginalized areas at national and regional levels.
|Source: WSIS Geneva Plan of Action, 2003: www.itu.int/wsis/docs/geneva/official/poa.html