IGF 2021 Open Forum #67 Access to the Open Internet: benefits, challenges and policy approaches

Wednesday, 8th December, 2021 (16:30 UTC) - Wednesday, 8th December, 2021 (17:30 UTC)
Conference Room 8

Practical locally-driven policy solutions: What lessons can be drawn (and how) from successful policy solutions to universal access and meaningful connectivity around the world, while taking into account local specificities and needs? In particular, what are the relevant practices implemented by local actors (local government, civil society, local providers and entrepreneurs) to advance universal and meaningful access?

Panel - Auditorium - 60 Min


Key questions: Access to the Open Internet, not only telecom connectivity, is a key challenge to ensure meaningful connectivity and bridge the digital divide. Why does access to the Open Internet matter, what are the challenges operators, governments, and end-users face in rolling out and accessing the Open Internet, and how to overcome them? What infrastructures and technologies do we need to boost access to the Open Internet? What are the policy approaches and digital cooperation mechanisms to promote the Open Internet globally?

Overview of the issue: Allowing access to the Open Internet and the vast array of online services and information it provides should be a central, inherent component in the global efforts to provide meaningful connectivity to all and bridge the digital divide. The Open Internet is a key driver for innovation, socio-political, economic, and cultural development. It enables people in multiple ways: knowledge- and ideas- sharing, skills development, research and innovation, entrepreneurship, expression of opinions, interaction with governments, participation in societal and political debates, etc. Trustworthy data flows based on the Open Internet empower small and medium-sized enterprises to enter value chains, develop new services, contributing to job and GDP growth. In particular, ensuring full access to the Open Internet is a real opportunity for developing countries to deliver the above benefits to their citizens in a cost-efficient manner while protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms online.

Open Internet deployment faces a number of challenges that might impede fully harvesting the benefits above such as a weaker development of the local Internet ecosystem, lower connection speeds and service quality, limited national and international connectivity, but also government control – including possible internet shutdowns, loss of privacy and security, etc. Connectivity policies should then cover the deployment and upgrade of key internet technologies, standards (e.g. IPv6 for future-proof IP connectivity; QUIC for enhanced data transport, etc.) and infrastructures (e.g. international connectivity, Internet Exchange Points, data centers), and provide regulatory support towards building dynamic, trustful and democratic local Internet ecosystems that can guarantee secure and stable access to the Open Internet. The forum will take stock of current initiatives to develop access to the Open Internet and reflect how effective partnerships between governments, industry, and civil society can help developing countries develop Open Internet connectivity for the benefit of all their citizens.

Approach: The sessions will be organised around several interventions from various stakeholders from the public and private sector and from civil society, from different geographic regions including developing countries and countries providing foreign aid in the digital sector. It will give ample space for interaction with the participants, in order to provide a broad perspective on the issue and stimulate the discussion. It will aim to explore the above-mentioned challenges and trigger reflection and constructive approach on how to improve access to the Open Internet as a means for digital development and safe, prosper and inclusive digital societies.

1) How will you design the session to ensure the best possible experience for the online and on-site participants? The sessions will be organised in a way that allows interventions both online (chat and Q&A pods) and on-site. The answers would be provided to the full (online and onsite) audience attending the session. We are also in the process of contacting our internal experts to shape the session in the most valuable way. The EC has vast experience in organising online, on-site and hybrid meetings.

2) If the speakers and organizers will all be online, how will you ensure interactions between them and the participants (including with on-site participants)? Given that the session would be hybrid, there will be at least 1 or 2 panelists/speakers present on-site. In addition, the approach shaped under 1) would take into consideration this question should COVID-related difficulties persist.

3) Are you planning to use complementary tools/platforms to increase participation and interaction during the session? The EC will reach out to all its networks and Delegations around the world to promote the session and ensure high-level participation. We have access to and can implement complementary communication tools as appropriate.


European Commission

  • Mr. Yoichi IIDA, Deputy Director-General for G7 and G20 Relations, Global Strategy Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan
  • Mr. Esteve SANZ, Head of Sector Internet Governance and Multi-stakeholder Dialogue, European Commission
  • Ms Hadja Amayel KANE, Directrice ‘Stratégie Technologique des Réseaux au Pôle Etudes et Planification, Direction des Réseaux et Plateformes de Services Sonatel
  • Dr. Raquel GATTO, IGF Secretariat Consultant, Policy Network on Meaningful Access Facilitator
Onsite Moderator

Dr. Tereza HOREJSOVA, Director Project and Partnerships, Diplo/Geneva Internet Platform.

Online Moderator

Laura Ferre Sanjuan. European Commission


Velimira Nemiguentcheva-Grau, European Commission


3. Good Health and Well-Being
4. Quality Education
8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
10. Reduced Inequalities
16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
17. Partnerships for the Goals

Targets: While connectivity contributes to some extent to reaching almost all SDG, there is a direct link between the session we propose and the above-listed SDGs. Namely, access to the Open Internet and the vast array of online services it provides is an important building block for advancing on:

• Good health and well-being: having access to the internet allows to be informed on diseases, be connected to family and friends, get trusty health information, cooperation among hospitals and researchers; • Quality education – open connectivity allows access to data and diverse sources of knowledge, distant learning, and exchanges of learning and teaching experience; • Decent Work and Economic Growth – open internet creates new working opportunities and contributes to growth; • Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure – open connectivity promotes innovation, also contributing to industrial development and infrastructure building/roll-out; • Reducing Inequality – open internet contributes to reducing inequalities between those who have studied and those who have not, urban centers and rural areas, developed and less developed regions, men and women, and ultimately between rich and poor; • Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions – open internet ensures transparency, rule of law, democratic societies and processes, reliable institutions capable of regulation but also respective of fundamental rights; • Partnerships for the goals – the session would allow structuring the effort of stakeholders around inclusive, safe, and human-centric Internet connectivity to build/further partnerships around accelerating the achievements of the SDGs.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Access to open internet is key for bridging the digital divide, guaranteeing democracy and human rights. We should support it and ensure that open internet access goes hand in hand with infrastructure deployment. Policy approaches should consider open internet as a multistakeholder domain, foster dialogue. We need to invest including through international partnerships, to extend open Internet connectivity, securing local, free, available content.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

To all stakeholders, national governments, international organizations, technical community, private companies, and civil society to work towards bringing access to a model of internet worldwide that is free and open, that is based on a multistakeholder approach, and that has human rights at its core.

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

Although access to the open internet is essential to bridge the digital divide, it is not yet a reality for all countries. According to recent ITU data, as of 2021, the 63% of the world’s population uses the Internet, and this percentage is expected to continue rising. However, there are 2.9 billion people who remain offline. In this context, the open forum of the European Commission at the IGF 2021, moderated by Dr. Tereza Horejsova, Director Project and Partnerships at the Diplo/Geneva Internet Platform, aimed to discuss the benefits, challenges and policy approaches to the access to the open internet from different regional and sectorial perspectives. 

Mr. Yoichi Iida, Deputy Director-General for G7 and G20 relations at the Global Strategy Bureau of the Ministry of International Affairs and Communications of Japan, started by highlighting that although two thirds of the world population have access to the internet, providing meaningful access for the remaining third is a challenge, even for the countries that are already connected. In the African continent, during covid, Japan identified the importance of internet and connectivity for elements of daily life such as education, and for the recovery of the economy. That is why Japan worked with the ITU in the initiative “Connect to Recover” to bring better access to connectivity to the people in Africa. Japan also promoted other projects using official development assistance aiming to increase connectivity through submarine cables and innovative solutions such as the HAPS platform. Mr. Iida stressed the view of Japan that connectivity to the open internet should be human-centric and linked to freedom and human rights, and that is why like-minded countries should work together to protect common values through policies that are respectful of people’s rights. 

Ms. Hadja Amayel Kane, Director of Network Technology Strategy at the Studies and Planning Department of Sonatel Senegal, pointed out the multiplicity of actors in the field of the access to the open internet in her country. From her perspective, the principal challenge for Sonatel Senegal to bring open internet is to ensure connectivity to the entire population. As she explained, the operators in Senegal have introduced mobile broadband policies  through the development of infrastructure 3G and 4G in the region, and they are developing a technological mix depending on the region and the distance from urban nucleus that permits fixed access. Another main challenge for them is the profitability of the operators, and that is why they are urging governments to reduce fiscal pressure over telecom companies to foster the investments in the region. Over-the-top services should contribute also to such investments. According to Ms. Kane one of the essential needs of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is having internet as an essential element for digitalization and development, which can lead to leaving the concept of the open internet unprioritized. In this regard, access to the information about the benefits of the open internet is essential for the different agents involved for them to understand how the system works and how it can be protected. 

Dr. Raquel Gatto, IGF Secretariat consultant and Policy Network on Meaningful Access Facilitator, defended the importance of looking into meaningful access by thinking that it implies connecting humans, and considering three pillars: connectivity, digital inclusion, and capacity development. In her region, Latin America, but also in the world, one important aspect that meaningful access implies is understanding the needs of the communities, knowing how they want to be connected and contributing to them owning their capacity development decisions. The Policy Network on Meaningful Access was created in June with the goal of bringing together the key actors that are involved in achieving meaningful access. Over more than six months, they have had several discussions on the matter, and they have collected experiences from users in different circumstances and regions to identify the essential elements of meaningful access and to understand how they can further make them work.  

Mr. Esteve Sanz, Head of Sector of Internet Governance and Multi-stakeholder dialogue at the European Commission, stated the importance and the urgency of digitalizing the world, which has been and continues to be addressed by the EU, for instance on its Digital Compass and in the Global Gateway, a strategic connectivity package introduced last week by President Von Der Leyen that will mobilize 300 billion euros for connectivity in partner countries. This instrument has three characteristics representative of the EU approach to digitalization. The first characteristic is that digital connectivity investments will be intrinsically linked to the development of standards, protocols and infrastructures that support the free, secure and open internet. This will improve the user experience significantly, but it is also specially relevant in a policy environment in which alternative top-down approaches to the internet are being proposed by other countries,  potentially fragmenting   the open internet in very damaging ways. . The second premise for the EU is that infrastructure investments will  be combined with country-level technical assistance on digital regulations to ensure the rights of privacy, data privacy, open and fair markets, and cybersecurity so that the connectivity that is deployed truly empowers local ecosystems and  does not create dependencies. Finally, the third characteristic is that the Global Gateway instrument will proceed on the basis of equal and multistakeholder partnerships, linking with existing international efforts at the ITU, World Bank, national governments, and companies, and understanding the connectivity needs of partner countries. The open internet was for Mr. Sanz a major source of prosperity and innovation, but how countries and communities are connected is truly relevant. The European Union is designing solutions to contribute to bring this human-centric connectivity for all.  

For the audience, the greatest challenge to the access to the open internet in their respective region was the lack of political will. The online discussion highlighted the gap that is often seen between the optics and the materialization of intentions when providing open access to the internet, and the importance of fighting for the second through the work of governments and decentralized organizations. Finally, the participants provided ideas for concrete steps to promote the open internet globally such as the importance of getting the interest of policy makers, of finding ways to protect digital freedom, of warning users about the dangers of the internet, of supporting local self-governed entities, and of promoting digital accessibility and literacy in rural areas.