Geneva, 25 September 2003. As the third PrepCom is coming close to its end, the discussions on the summit declaration and action plan still have not been resolved today. The main conflictive issue besides internet governance and the status of human rights has been the question of how to bridge the digital divide. The Northern countries have made very clear from the beginning of PrepCom3 that they do not want to pay money for building digital bridges. In the latest drafts of the summit documents, the digital divide is not even mentioned anymore. The developing countries, in line with civil society, were very frustrated about this development. They felt cheated by the North, because the whole idea of the WSIS from the beginning had been to build a more inclusive global information society and bridge the digital divide. Some African government delegations therefore have been strongly resisting the proposed Northern „consensus language“ that only would „invite all stakeholders to join in the digital solidarity agenda“.
The issue of finance and the digital divide also so far had not gathered a lot of attention among Northern civil society activitsts. Mainly because of their backgrounds in human rights and civil liberties movements and the ICTs (or geek) culture, they had focused their lobbying efforts more on themes like privacy, freedom of speech or Free Software. Therefore their work had also been organised around thematic caucuses and working groups, while some attampts to form a working European and North American caucus before PrepCom3 had never led to serious follow-up. Thios week, though, the European civil society delegates for the first time were given the opportunity to present their opinions to the EU governments. The meeting went very well and opened up the chance for a more structured and open discussion between governments and civil society on the European level. But it was also criticised afterwards, because some activists feared that civil society in Europe would end up as just one more player in the technocratic and more or less neoliberal agenda of their governments. For the first time in the WSIS process, the activists directly involved in the official process yesterday evening discussed their responsibility for raising the southern perspective.
The finance issue more and more leads to connectig the ICTs-focused WSIS process with development policy. The African governments have already noticed that they need civil society cooperation in this regard. As could be heard in the last days, a number of African government delegations have affiliated civil society representatives. This morning, the head of the Senegalese delegation even came to the civil society plenary and asked it for adopting a statement on the digital solidarity fund. The civil society plenary did not immediately agree to this, but a discussion on the South-South and North-South perspective got started and was continued in the content and themes group.
Later in the afternoon, a meeting took place among civil society delegates from the South with some friends from the North, where a joint statement regarding the digital solidarity fund was discussed and later on finished in the content and themes group. In it, civil society members strongly support the idea of a fund that helps information society oriented development in less developed areas. But they also make clear that they do not agree to just setting up a fund that might in the end lead to even more money in the pockets of corrupt leaders or increase the long-term dependence of the poor from the rich. Instead, clear criteria are formulated for the funding mechanisms. These include transparence, bottom-up processes, technological sustainability and others.
But the fund, according to many, has to be one project in a larger perspective of unequal trade relations, debt relieve and global neoliberal liberalization. As one activist from the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) commented: „If you look at the great scheme of things, this summit is an attempt to bridge a divide we are facing because of structural divides that have been there for hundreds of years. A wonderful outcome of the summit could be the promotion of policies that ensure we do not need a digital solidarity fund in ten years time anymore.“
Read the Civil Society Statement on Information and Communication Solidarity Funding Mechanisms.