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Internet Governance & Sustainable Development

What is Sustainable Development?

Sustainable development has been defined in many ways, but the most frequently quoted definition is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:

  • The concept ofneeds, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor.

  • The idea oflimitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.

A number of definitions of sustainable development require that we see the world as a system — a system that connects space and a system that connects time.

When you think of the world as a system over space, you grow to understand that air pollution from Brazil affects air quality in Armenia, and that pesticides sprayed in Argentina could harm fish stocks off the coast of Australia. We must also understand that the economic policies we endorse today will have an impact on urban poverty on the next generation. The concept of sustainable development is rooted in this sort of systems thinking. Concerns around sustainable development suggest that meeting the needs of the future depends on how well we balance social, economic, and environmental objectives.

What is Internet Governance?

The broader internet community defines Internet Governance as the development and application by governments, the private sector, technical community and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmers that shape the evolution and use of the internet. In other words Internet Governance refers to the processes that impact how the internet is managed.

Some people feel that Internet Governance is a purely technical matter, best left to programmers and engineers. Others refuse utilization of the term ‘governance’ as it often gives rise to confusion because it is (erroneously) assumed that it must refer solely to acts or duties of the government. In my modest opinion, governments do play an important role in many kinds of governance. But I think that Internet Governance includes a wider variety of actors than just the government. Today Internet Governance refers to more than just internet domain name and address management or technical decision-making. It stands as a shield, behind Information and Communications technologies (ICTs) which has an untapped potential to achieve sustainable development.

Our commitment to sustainable development should follow and inform the Internet Governance debate. Sustainable development efforts cannot be conceived without global communications and knowledge exchange: therefore, the outcomes of the Internet Governance debate will affect our ability to manage the social, environmental and economic factors of sustainable development. Beyond this fundamental link, numerous and diverse issue areas exist where the Internet Governance and sustainable development policy communities could discover mutual challenges and learn from each other’s approaches to confronting them and setting the stage for future cooperation. There are five areas in which further exploration of potential links between these two communities could be anchored.

  1. Governance processes — which examine the emerging multi-stakeholder governance models, tested in both the sustainable development arena and in the Internet Governance forum. Governance of the internet understandably emerged as a key issue from this process given its increasing importance to the global economy. Sustainable development efforts cannot be conceived without global communications and knowledge exchange. Therefore, the outcomes of the Internet Governance debate will affect our ability to manage the social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainable development.

  2. Economic barriers to development —  (poverty, quality education, gender equality and etc.) which examine the cost of access to the internet infrastructure as an “indispensable” resource for general development and economic growth, a “vector” for sustainable development that outlines a number of infrastructural, systemic and regulatory impediments to ensuring the spread of information and knowledge, business opportunities, administrative efficiencies, employment and transparency. The high cost of access to the internet has major implications for developing countries, not only in terms of their ability to compete on a global level in economic sectors that are highly influenced by the internet (e.g. outsourcing industries, software production etc.) and in those that are dependent on it (e.g. e-commerce). High cost of access to the internet also potentially impacts on the social development of countries, facilitating for example better interaction between individuals, businesses, citizens, and the state. There is also a huge gap between urban and rural internet penetration. Rural residents are less likely to be internet users than those who live in suburbs or cities. A 2009 study, by the World Bank found that a 10% increase in internet fixed broadband penetration boosts a developing economy’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by about 1.4%.

  3. The capacity of developing countries to participate in International Governance- there are challenges in participation which raises a complex set of issues anywhere. For example in international ICT decision-making have always been challenging environments for developing country participation because of the high levels of technical capacity required for effective participation. Larger developing countries (such as Brazil, Mexico and India), particularly those with substantial ICT sectors, have been able to play a significant part in decision-making, while smaller countries have found this more difficult. New Internet Governance institutions, built around internet stakeholder communities pose new and different challenges in many ways, but also require high levels of technical expertise for effective participation.

  4. Access to local knowledge & critical input to decision-making- knowledge is a central resource in the global economy and as such access to knowledge is an increasingly crucial ingredient for economic development. When considering the issue of access to knowledge it is important to first establish why access to knowledge is fundamental to the widely held vision of the information society. I must mention that knowledge is essential for many human activities and values, is based on the concept that access to knowledge is a fundamental human right. Unfortunately, significant barriers stand in the way for much of humanity from benefiting from the immense opportunities that new ICT made possible for individuals to participate in the information society. These barriers effectively, deny people the opportunity to enjoy these fundamental rights, whether it is a result of inadequate infrastructure, affordability of access, content in local languages, lack of education and skills.

  5. Indicators for development- sustainable development must be private sector driven. Private sector driven sustainable development depends in turn on human capital, good governance, an effective use of natural resources and the protection of the environment for future generations ICTs can contribute to improve all these factors. Governments are being left behind as entrepreneurs and innovators race ahead. The countries where public sector want to be more involved in managing the internet so that they can better monitor who is saying what and censor speech online disturbing factor for development.

While none of the SDGs are specifically about ICTs, several targets make references to ICTs and technology. The internet is instrumental in achieving the SDGs that any disruption or malfunction of the internet could affect the overall development agenda. It does not need to be a technical failure (standards, cutting of internet cables, virus attack) it could also be a policy issue (availability, cost, openness, content, freedom and privacy). As a result for above mentioned successful sustainable development is about empowering and enabling people through the digital transformation of knowledge and skills to make progress for future generations.


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