Progress on the path toward internet inclusion

A Q&A with Deepak Maheshwari, IEEE Internet Initiative Chair

26 June 2018

Question: Since it was established in 2014, how has the IEEE Internet Initiative worked to connect the unconnected to the internet?

The IEEE Internet Initiative was established by the IEEE Board of Directors with a mission to provide a collaborative platform for advancing solutions and informing global policymaking. While technology is global, policy more often tends to be local. The IEEE Internet Initiative is a multistakeholder platform for dialog, development and deployment of pragmatic solutions, in line with IEEE’s mission of “Advancing Technology for Humanity.”

Participants have worked over the past four years plus to bring technology and policy considerations to the forefront in this pursuit. We’ve looked closely at what’s needed region-by-region to discover common areas and differences that need to be addressed through hosting events, such as IEEE Experts in Technology and Policy (ETAP) Forums and IEEE Internet Inclusion events in India and the U.S.

IEEE has collaborated with organizations gathering at events—such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum—where we helped organize a Hackathon for Health in 2017 using  information and communication technologies (ICTs) to help reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and moderated high-level panel discussions with global leaders. At the same time, we have also partnered and enabled other organizations towards this ambitious shared mission. These include, among others, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet Society, the World Bank, and the World Economic Forum.

Question: Why is internet inclusion an important focus for the Initiative?

A more inclusive internet brings enhanced economic, social, health, and educational opportunities across the globe to those who don’t have access today and—in the process—empowers communities. Initiative participants have organized seven working groups to focus on specific challenges and possible solutions related to internet inclusion—from improving digital skills to expanding energy and internet access in tandem. Other working groups are examining public access, community networks, financial models for connectivity, the gender digital divide, and evidence-based research.

Question: What perspectives do IEEE volunteers bring to global conversations about the internet’s future?

We’ve built an Internet Technology Policy (ITP) Community through the IEEE Collabratec Platform, that has more than 6,300 members, including experts with deep knowledge ranging from cybersecurity and privacy to technologies like blockchain that have implications on how internet technology and usage are and would be evolving. Others may contribute perspectives on internet governance. Experts like Vint Cerf, bring historical as well as futuristic perspectives that help prioritize the Initiative’s projects on the road to greater inclusion.

Working with IST-Africa, a strategic collaboration between IIMC, Ireland and 18 African Ministries and National Councils responsible for Innovation, Science and Technology, we’ve examined cybersecurity issues and challenges in Africa.

We’ve collaborated with leaders from businesses, NGOs, government bodies, academia, and others to discuss specific challenges and successful business models in India. We hosted an Internet Inclusion Workshop as a pre-event leading up to the Global Conference on Cyberspace 2017 in New Delhi. In prior events hosted there in March and September 2016, keynote speakers included Nitin Desai, the chairman of the Working Group on Internet Governance that worked between the WSIS 2003 and 2005 summits, and also the chair for the first five years of IGF from 2006 to 2010; RS Sharma, the Chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India; Richard Verma, then US Ambassador to India; and JS Deepak, then Secretary of Telecom, Government of India. Similar events were held in Beijing, China and Tel Aviv, Israel.

Question: What role has the Initiative played in internet policy?

Tapping experts from around the globe to share their opinions and research, the Initiative’s Policy Track connects technologists with policymakers and other stakeholders to identify highest priority issues and develop associated action plans and position statements. Programs include publishing the IEEE Internet Policy Newsletter and policy statements, such as The Role of the Technical Community in Internet Policy, which was approved by the IEEE Board of Directors in June 2017.

Question: What additional IEEE Internet Initiative resources are available that others can learn from?

Creation, curation, and dissemination of knowledge on internet inclusion and governance, cybersecurity, and privacy is an institutionalized process with us. These include white papers, position statements, monthly bulletins, IEEE Global Internet Policy Monitor, newsletters, articles and event reports. And, you do not even have to be an IEEE or ITP Community member to access this rich depository of resources on our website. Our Twitter handle @IEEENetPolicy is also very active and popular.

Starting with a position statement on Universal Access to the Internet, followed by a white paper and webinar on the same, we have developed best practices on several other themes and topics, with the singular focus on harnessing the collective expertise within IEEE membership to bear in the realm of internet technology, policy, and inclusion.