Civil Society event on Financing the Information Society
  A focus on Global Public Goods
  21 February. While the governmental debates on financing show deep controversies, civil society organizations are promoting their specific approaches to establishing financial mechanisms for bridging the digital divide. On Monday, the Instituto del Tercer Mundo (ITeM) and the Third World Network (TWN) held a panel debate which focused on the provision of global public goods. The panel presented the first outcomes of an ongoing research project on Southern perspectives at WSIS.

Presenting the paper "Financial Mechanisms for the Information Society from a Global Public Goods Perspective", Fernando Prada introduced a variety of possible paths towards the practical implementation of a public goods approach. He focused on local and national policies to strengthen public goods, depending on the income levels in different countries, within the context of a global perspective. The second paper, "Financing ICTs for Development with Focus on Poverty" by Lishan Adam, explored the serious poverty situation in Sub-Saharan Africa which is complemented by a drastic gap in technological infrastructure (for example, only 1.4% of people have access to the internet). Willie Currie, who presented the paper in the author's absence, noted that the market would not resolve this access gap as private investment is usually concentrated in a few investment-friendly localities, but that public money was needed to build backbone and distribution infrastructure, to develop human capacities, to support community-driven approaches, etc.

ITeM director Roberto Bissio contextualized the papers within a broader rationale for public goods. "It makes no sense if you are the only person in the world with a telephone", he pointed out to emphasize the positive externalities of communication. The value of communication increases with the number of users (in contrast to many other products, for example an increase in cars leads to traffic jams). Bissio said that it is important for the whole world to increase the value and the size of the global communication network, yet this public good is not paid by those who benefit most -- the Global North and its businesses -- but instead the poor people of the world pay for raising this common value. Bissio proposed global taxes to finance the global public good of communication and pointed to several possible models, including taxes on computer applications, microchips, and domain names. He noted that even the business sector has started to acknowledge the need of taxes to finance global public goods and expressed his conviction that a consensus on global taxes may eventually emerge.

Martin Khor, director of the Third World Network, emphasized that access to knowledge is a "right" and that therefore receiving adequate financing to establish this access is a "right" too, rather than a demand. He pointed out that there is a strong need for new financial mechanisms to generate additional resources. Following Bissio, he referred to international taxation which is no longer seen as a taboo: "What seemed to be undoable seems to be doable today". However he also pointed to related subjects, such as intellectual property rights, which have a direct impact on financing. As intellectual property rights have increasingly shifted towards the right holders at the expense of the public interest, and as access to knowledge is thus increasingly restricted, the costs for access are becoming higher and are further increasing the financial problems of the South.

Khor and Bissio thus both made clear that it is not enough to propose new finance mechanisms but that the global economic environment -- including intellectual property rights, but also the problems of debt payments and trade imbalances -- would have to be reformed to achieve progress.

The papers of the ITeM programme are available at:

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