IGF 2021 Open Forum #61 The building blocks to meaningful connectivity

Thursday, 9th December, 2021 (16:05 UTC) - Thursday, 9th December, 2021 (17:05 UTC)
Ballroom B

Defining universal and meaningful access: What are the key elements that constitute universal and meaningful Internet access? How can it be measured? How is the concept evolving in time and what does this evolution mean for policy?
Barriers to universal and meaningful access: What are the main challenges that people face in obtaining and making full use of Internet access? To what extent are these the result of social, economic and cultural factors, and to what extent do they result from aspects of the digital environment? How can we use the responses to these questions to better understand the intersection between digital policies and other policy areas? Can this understanding help us to develop and implement more realistic Internet-related policy goals?

Panel - Auditorium - 60 Min


ICANN proposes to host an Open Forum on the role and work of ICANN in facilitating “meaningful connectivity,” from a technical perspective.

The power of the Internet comes from being a single, interoperable Internet that is easily accessible globally and locally. When people go online, they need to be able to easily access content that is relevant to them and is in their local languages. Today, only one in twenty people on the globe speak English as their native language and are unable to fully benefit from all that the internet can deliver. We need to continue working to address this imbalance.

What are ICANN and the ICANN community doing to help communities around the world access the Internet in their local languages and scripts? What are the biggest obstacles that exist in accessing information in people’s local languages and scripts from a technical perspective? How can ICANN help in making the Internet really accessible to everyone?

ICANN plays a crucial and varied role in maintaining the technical underpinnings of the Internet. The Internet is not a physical infrastructure. It is a fusion of standards, protocols, addresses, and unique identifiers that work in concert across pre-existing networks. ICANN’s mandate is to ensure the stability, security, and resilience of the Domain Name System (DNS) so that it continues to allow thousands of networks across the globe to be interconnected. In addition to its responsibilities for coordinating the Internet’s unique identifiers, ICANN has also a responsibility, as outlined in the Bylaws, to implement policies and support systems that make it easier for people to access the Internet and connect with each other.

The ICANN community is spearheading a number of new projects with the goal of better adapting the Internet to the diverse languages and cultures of the world. Key to that goal is the New Generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) Program, Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) and Universal Acceptance (UA).

The session will address these topics and look at ICANN’s role in the technical governance of the Internet, from this perspective. Participants will also have the opportunity to pose questions to the ICANN CEO and President as well as the Chairman of the Board on ICANN’s understanding of meaningful connectivity.

The session will be designed in a hybrid format, with panelists and participants joining virtually and onsite. The session will be structured to provide a at least 20% of the duration for questions, comments, and discussion. All participants’ interventions and questions will be treated in an equal manner. The use of slides will facilitate the conversation for both online and onsite participants and provide a similar experience for all attendees. The onsite and online moderators will communicate through private means to exchange information during the session, including requests for interventions and questions from the attendees. Chat and Q&A pod (if available) will be actively monitored. Once details of the Zoom platform are available, we will look for ways to add features to improve interaction, if possible -- ICANN has been holding all our meetings and working group sessions online since March 2020 (thousands of hours), we have experience in adding and using new interactive features as they have become available. For those unable to attend due to time zone disparities, questions can be submitted prior to the session organizers. Additionally, background materials will be made available before the session so attendees can come prepared.


Andrea Beccalli, ICANN Stakeholder Engagement Director - Europe, Technical Community, WEOG Laurent Ferrali, ICANN Government and IGO Engagement Senior Director, Technical Community, WEOG Vera Major, ICANN Government and IGO Engagement Manager, Technical Community, WEOG


Mr. Göran Marby; ICANN CEO and President, Technical Community, WEOG Mr. Maarten Botterman; ICANN Chairman of the Board, Technical Community, WEOG; Manal Ismail, Director of the International Technical Coordination Department at the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Egypt and the ICANN GAC Chair; Danko Jevtović, International Board Member and Advisor to the ICANN Board

Onsite Moderator
Online Moderator


Targets: 1. No poverty: facilitating access to the internet takes away one of the biggest obstacles, accessing information, that hinders people living in poverty. Online access provide access to men, women and children with resources that can help alleviate poverty in all aspects of society.

8. Decent Work and Economic Growth: Through meaningful connectivity from a technical perspective, higher levels of economic productivity can be achieved. By expanding meaningful access, diversification and technological upgrade can be achieved, promoting decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation, and encouraging the growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, including through access to financial services.

9. Industry Innovation and Infrastructure: By supporting domestic technology development, local diversification can be achieved. This would lead to a significant increase in access to ICTs and provide meaningful access to the Internet in least developed countries.

10. Reduced Inequalities: Meaningful access empowers and promotes social, economic and political inclusion by making access to information and participation in society relevant to all.

17. Partnerships for the Goals: Enhancing the use of enabling technology also comprises accessing the Internet in a meaningful manner. This can be achieved through targeted capacity-building in developing countries and enhancing partnerships for sustainable development complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships. Through ICANN’s initiatives towards achieving meaningful connectivity, encouraging, and promoting effective public-private and civil society partnerships, all countries can build on the experience, expertise, and resourcing strategies of partnerships.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Promoting Universal Acceptance (UA) and IDNs is key to connecting the next 1 Billion Internet users and achieving meaningful connectivity. While ICANN dedicates an important part of its work to ensuring a strong foundation for this activity globally, ICANN cannot achieve it on its own. Meaningful connectivity can be achieved with support from governments and the private sector. UA will provide market and societal value--

--if end users are aware that a multilingual Internet is possible, the demand will be there.

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions


IGF 2021, Day 3

Open Forum: #61 The building blocks to meaningful connectivity (ICANN)

Hybrid session. 45 online participants, 5 in-person participants. 

Moderator: Maarten Botterman, Chair, ICANN Board


Göran Marby, CEO, ICANN

Manal Ismail, Chair. ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), ICANN Board

Danko Jevtović, ICANN Board


This session focused on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN) work in facilitating “meaningful connectivity” from a technical perspective. ICANN does this through the promotion of Universal Acceptance (UA) of all domain names, including internationalized domain names, with the goal of better adapting the Internet to the diverse scripts and cultures of the world, and making it accessible to both current users and the next billion that are expected to come online. The session was also an opportunity for ICANN to call for support among stakeholders to promote Universal Acceptance (UA), by asking their providers to make their systems UA ready, join UA working groups and set up local and regional working groups to promote UA. The main challenge is that the people who need UA most are not online- they don’t know it exists or how it could facilitate their online experience. We are in a cycle that needs to break- we need to convince supply and demand at the same time - the need will be there when the unconnected become aware that they could access the Internet in their language. There is a need for wide deployment from local level websites and emails to huge platforms, and it’s important for governments and manufacturers to work together to make the internet local. 

The ICANN community and organization have been working to raise awareness of this digital divide for many years, through supporting internationalized domain names (IDNs) and Universal Acceptance (UA). However, it’s not only ICANN that plays a role in bridging the digital divide; the whole Internet ecosystem needs to come together, from software developers to keyboard manufacturers and many others in the private sector to local and regional governments. It is a collective responsibility to ensure the Internet speaks more languages, that it offers an opportunity for people to access the Internet in their own language, to type in their own script with devices made for them. We need to localize the global Internet. This goal directly supports WSIS Action Line 3--providing populations with access to information and knowledge, as well as Action line 8 on enabling cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content.  

Göran Marby, ICANN’s President and CEO, pointed out that the Internet can be a big equalizer. However, too many people do not have access. Manal Ismail presented the stark statistics from the UN that there are still almost 3 billion people without access to the Internet- around 40% of the world. The COVID pandemic has accelerated the need for meaningful connectivity by demonstrating how so many are deprived of vital information. Bringing the remaining three billion people online requires addressing different needs than for those who are already connected. The next billion people are from the developing world and we should not expect them to master a foreign language. While the introduction of IDNs was a great achievement, their full benefit will not be attained without the wide deployment of UA. Ismail purported ensuring seamless end-to-end multilingual experience is key to enabling those who have a language barrier. This would require all systems and applications to be able to accept, validate, process, store, and display local scripts. 

Danko Jevtović gave several examples of the advantages achieved through use of the cyrillic alphabet online and that full inclusion will need the backing of and support from stakeholders to include vendors and governments.

The discussion addressed the efforts needed to focus on promoting the wide deployment of UA. All stakeholders are important in deploying UA. Governments are key and can lead the way- they can provide proof of concept in the market by demonstrating the strategic advantages of UA- the use of the country’s official language, online communication in local languages when using governmental services, reaching citizens nationwide, preserving the local culture and identity. One way governments could start to employ universal acceptance is to include it in contracts and purchase orders--make vendors deliver UA. The government could be a role model for UA. Beyond the immense value of social inclusion, there is market value in promoting meaningful access. This evolved local connectivity will inspire local innovation, thus strengthening human capital, sustainable growth and expanding opportunities for all.

Josef Noll, professor of Digital Health at the Centre for Global Health in the University of Oslo, gave a powerful example of the benefits of making the Internet accessible in developing areas. His organization deployed “information spots” in rural villages in Africa using Swahili- provided information on diseases resulting in over 50% increase in disease literacy and knowledge. 

Fred Quajo Azori, from Ghana, is a 2021 youth ambassador, who brought up the significant point that for the billions of unconnected people, computer literacy would need to be the first step. Much needs to happen in order to get the next billion users online. From policy-makers to the private sector, and from manufacturers to software developers--it will take many years and we need to come together now to promote the widespread deployment of universal acceptance which will also help expand the reach for the next round of new gTLDs on the horizon.  

Fundamentally, all stakeholders should advocate for a better more inclusive user experience and work diligently to address the language barriers. If we are to use the Internet to its greatest advantage, there must be only one system, one DNS, that allows access to domain names in local languages and scripts for the current 4 billion plus users around the world, and the next billion waiting in the wings to get connected. When they do, it’s our collective responsibility to ensure that the Internet speaks their language.