Statement to WSIS Plenary PrepCom 2, Geneva 18th February 2004

2005-02-23 00:00:00

The following is the text delivered on behalf of the CRIS Campaign
by Claudia Padovani.

"Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need
and the foundation of all social organization. It is central to
the information society." If these words sound familiar it is
because they are taken from the WSIS Geneva Declaration. The CRIS
Campaign takes these to heart. We believe that communication, and
communication rights, are at the heart of the Information Society.

This point is very relevant to the issue of financing, and I want
to focus on a few dimensions of this.

First, people's right to communicate, and to engage with the
communication structures of society, should not be dependent on
the ability to pay. Since the market works on ability to pay,
where it fails (and the Task Force report acknowledges that it
sometimes does) governance structures must find the resources to
make up the short fall and ensure people have at least a minimum
of communication rights. Thus governments, individually and
collectively, must create the environment in which the
communication needs of development are realised in all its
dimensions. An environment to attract private investment might be
one aspect of it - but this is a means not an end, and cannot
fulfil all the needs. The centrality of public expenditure,
directed at the public good, must be recognised. This may in turn
require the redistribution of some of the considerable profits
generated in the communication sector towards the needs of poor
communities. Such redistribution may, in part, be most equitably
and efficiently done at the global level.

In short, inability to pay for a basic need implies redistribution
of resources: governments of the north, as well as the south,
cannot shirk their responsibilities here. It is also clear that
the scale of the problem, especially among poor rural communities,
demands some new thinking.

Second, it stands to reason that the mechanisms that are put into
place for financing, the follow-up mechanisms for the WSIS, or
indeed national policies through which they are implemented, must
have the active participation of all parties, and this must
include any Digital Solidarity Fund. Of course, civil society is
accepted on paper as a partner in the process- but we need to
translate this into reality, and I include here the onus on civil
society to understand the issues and come up with workable
realistic solutions.

Third, the structures into which finances are directed, especially
where the goal is explicitly to support development and enhance
communication of the poor, must be tailored specifically to those
needs. The most effective financing, ownership and management
structures must be facilitated - and this may mean community
ownership of networks infrastructure, local SME ownership, local
authority ownership - and not just large corporate ownership.
Examples of community-driven networks can be found everywhere -
from the USA (where about 1,000 rural cooperative exist) to Poland,
to Argentina, Peru and India. These have often emerged against
the odds. We need an environment that will encourage them, enable
community and local entrepreneurship, and reap the development and
empowering benefits.

Fourth, in relation to spending finances most wisely, w must
observe technology neutrality - the most appropriate technology
must be used. I refer of course to realising the potential of new
and emerging technologies, from VOIP to WiFi to WiMAX, and to
regulating to maximise their contribution to solving the problem
of exclusion. But appropriate technology also applies to old
technologies. As we have heard community and local radio can
often hugely contribute to the capacity to communicate, and is
still hugely neglected - and for that matter television,
increasingly controlled by corporate and commercial interests,
must also be re-imagined as a tool for communication, not profit

These comments are somewhat general in nature, still at the level
of principles. Over the coming days, weeks and months, the CRIS
campaign and its partners will be developing innovative, practical
and workable ideas to put these principles into action, and we
look forward to collaborating with everyone here in the time ahead.
The Civil Society Working Group on Financing, too, will be
developing its own ideas to be conveyed to the assembly.

Thank you

CRIS Campaign (Communication Rights in the Information Society)