Table of contents
Part 1
What are ICT and internet policies?
Part 2
The internet, markets and access
Part 3
National ICT and internet policy and regulation
Part 4
Specific issues in internet policy and regulation
Part 5
Organisations active in ICT

  17. Decision-making processes

- Influencing national policy
- Influencing Internet management
- Influencing the international agenda

All players agree in principle that good decisions derive from broad-based inputs, transparent processes for reconciling different interests and publicly accessible policies, laws and regulations. The two examples here illustrate the fact that it becomes more difficult to maintain open and transparent decision-making as the political stakes increase. In practice it is difficult to achieve ideal conditions with respect to national ICT policy, the management of the internet and the international telecommunications reform agenda – the three decision arenas that have been discussed in this chapter.

The United Nations system – broad umbrella of the ITU, the World Bank and the WTO – is largely a system of governments. National delegations to discussions within these bodies are more open to including different stakeholders than in the past. And the UN has granted observer status to many non-governmental organisations. Nevertheless, when power is at stake, decision-making is held close to the chests of governmental elites.

The internet itself can be a powerful tool to increase access to information and knowledge, and thereby increase transparency of decision-making and create the conditions for accountability. But it is not easily accessible everywhere and many people lack the skills to use it to further their own objectives. Many more lack the knowledge required to engage in debate on the complex commercial, technical and political issues that frame its management.

This chapter has referred to – but not addressed in detail
– the role of big corporations in decision-making on ICTs. Recent corporate history has shown how easy it was to misrepresent corporate operations and assets; it underlines the importance of regulations that separate board and executive and accountancy and advisory functions. The quality of future decision-making in both global and national ICT sectors will depend very much on the quality of corporate governance.

Influencing national policy

To enable broad-based participation in national policy requires a high level of public awareness of the issues, which is reflected in the attention they receive in local media. Media messages need to be in a language and style accessible to the public. The internet is a powerful tool but it does not reach all users. It must be used for communication and information exchange where possible, but its limitations as a tool for broad dissemination must be recognised. The public needs to be empowered through strong civil society organisations to articulate its views; the CSOs themselves need to master lobbying techniques and learn how to connect with government, for example by creating coalitions of civil society organisations concerned with ICT issues, or by strengthening civil society voices within existing computer and communications forums.

Expanding pay phones in Sri Lanka

The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka identified problems with the supply of pay phones – low penetration, concentration in urban areas and high costs for customers. It advised the government to adopt pay phone subsidies with a goal of installing 100 new pay phones in each district and recommended limits on the amount of the subsidy and on the number that could be assigned to any single operator. It further recommended a time limit on the subsidy program.

The government accepted the recommendation and directed TRCA to implement it using its own re

Source: Trends in Telecommunications Reform 2002, p. 25


Selecting a second national operator in South Africa

The ending of South Africa Telkom’s period of exclusivity through the licensing of a second national
operator (SNO), was foreseen in the first post apartheid Telecommunications Act passed in 1996.
In spite of the existence of an independent regulator – the Independent Communications Authority of SouthAfrica – the process has been widely questioned; the first round of bidding failed to produce a result that was accepted by the government. Authority rejected two bids for the 51% foreign equity stake in the SNO. The second round is now approaching completion.

Source: MGP2003/3lv00103/4lv00248/5lv00288.htm


On the regulatory side the key is clear policy and legislation that creates an independent regulator that operates at arms length from government and other interests, and is seen to be so doing. The policy, legislation and regulatory decisions must be in the public domain. Public consultations should be organised on all issues that have public impact. Here again, the extent to which civil society and the private sector are themselves vibrant and organised will impact on their capacity to collaborate effectively in regulatory processes.

All of these conditions ultimately depend on democratic, transparent and accountable government free from the pressure of special interests and corruption.

Influencing Internet management

Opening up internet management is a challenge because of the lack of recognition given to the importance of the internet by many governments, the technical nature of the issues at stake, and the other pressures on relatively small communities of experts. This is particularly the case in developing countries but it is also true everywhere outside the ICT mainstream.

Joining up for a free membership in ISOC and becoming a member of a national chapter, or establishing one, would seem to offer one of the best opportunities for strengthening the local internet community and building a platform from which to influence internet decisions. This may be a long-term solution, when the fast paced internet world calls for short term interventions. Current debates on ICANN suggest a real fear that decisions that set the future course for the internet will be made without the participation of the growing number of users in developing countries. 1

Ideas have been suggested to make ICANN responsive to a broader community of users. These include producing ICANN documents in languages other than English, exploiting local channels – websites, print media, radio – for the dissemination of news and information, creating ambassadors to represent and promote ICANN in countries where it is little known, sponsoring developing country participation in ICANN meetings, and opening up regional seats for election on the ICANN Board. Ironically, after ICANN opened up its Board to members elected online by internet users on a regional basis, and thus exposing itself to criticism from within, it then stepped back and refused to continue with this unique (in internet governance) experiment in democracy.2

The newly elected President of ICANN has indicated interest in stimulating developing country government, business and consumer participation in ICANN’s work. A step in this direction is the establishment of an ‘at large’ advisory committee (ALAC), to provide advice in relation to the community of individual internet users. ALAC members have been appointed on an interim basis by the ICANN Board. ALAC is helping to organise local and regional groups to engage internet users and disseminate news of its programmes and decisions. Once regional structures are in place they will elect new ALAC members. Since these groups are intended to be selforganising and self-supporting, they will not be easy to establish in developing countries. And they are advisory rather than decision-making bodies. They do however offer a way into ICANN’s processes – they are expected to promote structured involvement and informed participation of the global internet community in ICANN.3


Influencing the international agenda

Developing countries are hampered in their relations with intergovernmental decision-making bodies, including the ITU, WB and WTO, by the fact that expertise in any given area is normally stretched extremely thinly. This is particularly the case with ICT expertise, which is a new area, not always recognised in developing countries as being an essential ingredient of development.

Civil society is also hampered - in its case, by the fact that it does not participate as a full partner in the deliberations of most United Nations family organisations. The UN is, for the most part, a system in which decisions are taken by governments. The one notable exception is the International Labour Organization in which Ministries of Labour, trade unions and employers organisations all have seats on the Governing Body. We have seen also that telecommunications business has always played a role in ITU although not as members of its Governing Council.

Louder Voices, a 2002 study by the Panos Institute and the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation4, calls for a series of measures to overcome the obstacles to effective developing country participation in international ICT decision-making. The report recommends that the international community promote awareness of the role of ICT in development, provide accessible and independent research, analysis and information, and make meetings more accessible to developing countries. It recommends to developing country governments that they improve information flows, coordination and knowledge
management within the sector, engage all stakeholders in policy processes, make better use of resources available for participation and build regional alliances for maximum impact in decision processes. It also proposes a series of programmes to build regional centres of specialised ICT knowledge, establish web resources and fund small-scale research.

All of these measures should be designed to strengthen non-governmental ICT organisations in developing countries as well as governments.

They are in a sense demand-side steps that will, if successful, eventually strengthen developing country voices in international organisations where ICT decisions are made.

There is room also for supply-side changes that see the big players themselves listening more carefully not only to developing countries but also to global civil society.

The following case shows both the problems and the potential of engaging in the international process leading to the World Summit on the Information Society.


World Summit on the Information Society - Geneva 2003, Tunis 2005

The convening by ITU and its partners of the WSIS is a major achievement for all those who believe that information has long been the missing element in the development equation.

It is the first Summit to take place in two sessions – the first in Geneva in 2003, the second in Tunis in 2005. The Summit was carefully prepared by a series of regional meetings – with all sectors represented. And global preparatory commissions which are led by governments. The problem with Summits of this kind is that governments must agree to the principles and action plans that emerge from them well in advance of the meetings themselves.

ITU set up a bureau specifically to facilitate civil society participation. Civil society achieved a victory in the February, 2003, Prepcom2 by getting some content included in the official drafts to be considered again in September. But then in the later Intersessional meeting, many of the issues regarded by civil society as key were omitted from the working documents for the Declaration of Principles and the Action Plan, despite the stress put on them by the civil society submissions. The discontent increased in the September, 2003, Prepcom3 meeting, where the civil society press release stated that if the final Declaration of Principles and the Action Plan did not reflect social priorities instead of market-based ones, civil society would not lend credibility to the Summit nor its results.

For the Summit itself, the Communications Rights in the Information Society (CRIS) campaign organised a day of debate within WSIS in Geneva to ensure that civil society voices are heard, and other groups, mostly from outside the process, decided to organise an alternative event, parallel to the Summit. The many civil society groups believe that the Summit documents do not reflect the fundamental inequalities that govern the global information society, and prepared their own declaration of principles, at variance with the official documents. The processes was not perfect but civil society made itself a force to be reckoned with in this most global ICT game in town.


Akash Kapur , Why ICANN Needs Fresh Blood: A Deeper View, March 26, 2003

For a former Board member's view, cf and this link

4 Louder Voices: Strengthening developing country participation in international ICT decision-making, Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, Panos, July 2002

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