(Statement on the World Summit on Information Society)

By Prof. Jose Maria Sison
Chairperson, International Coordinating Committee
International League of Peoples’ Struggle
16 November 2005

The arrogance and drive for profit of the United States and other monopolists of information and communications technology (ICT) are well exposed in the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS). The impositions of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and World Intellectual Property Organizations render inutile any high-sounding rhetoric about freedom and equity in the WSIS Declaration of Principles.

As the supposed response of the United Nations (UN) on the growing gap between rich capitalist countries and poor countries on Internet access and ICT development, the second phase of the WSIS in Tunis is touted as the occasion to finalize Internet governance policies and the plan for the mobilization of resources to bridge the worldwide “digital divide.”

The extent of the digital divide can be visualized in the September 2005 report of www.worldInternetstats.com, which shows that only 28 countries worldwide have more than 50% of their population connected to the Internet, while Internet penetration for other countries is only about 8.1%. This demonstrates that all other countries, excluding the 28 countries, have very inadequate ICT infrastructures.

It is not enough, however, to merely interpret this unequal development in ICT infrastructures as a “digital divide”. More importantly, this must be viewed as a clear manifestation of the unequal economic development between capitalist countries and poor countries. The Economist.com has correctly pointed out that the deeper reason of the “digital divide,” is, “Fewer people in poor countries than in rich ones own computers and have access to the Internet simply because they are too poor, (and) have other more pressing concerns, such as food, health care and security.”

The WSIS Tunis summit is more concerned about Internet Governance (IG) and about balancing the dominance of US state power and its private monopolies in the industry on the one hand and the demands of Europe and China. It does not focus on the need to find solutions for the above hindrances to instant communications access, so that achievements may be possible in WSIS’ avowed goal to build an open and free information society.

WSIS’ approach to Internet governance is to treat uneven ICT development as a purely technical and regulatory concern. And yet the reality is that developed countries are making available through technological innovations alternatives to address these technical concerns of Internet governance.

For instance, in the management of the domain name system, the control of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) or any other entity should not hinder the creation of additional top-level domains (.com, .org, .net). The use and management of country code top-level domains (.ph, .fr, .uk, .us) would be more fair if these were handed over to corresponding countries to allow these to exercise their sovereignty. The domain name system is being managed as if there is a scarcity of domain names, but in reality this scarcity is conjured by the current managers of domain names as a means for gaining more profit.

In terms of the allocation of IP addresses, the transition to Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) will solve the concern of using up all of IP addresses in the current Internet Protocol version 4. The Regional Internet Registries that will manage the allocation of these addresses should, therefore, not be discriminatory in allocating addresses to member countries.

However, the use of such technical alternatives and other upcoming discoveries are at the mercy of a very few developed capitalist countries that have the monopoly on ICT-related products and infrastructure. The direction of ICT development is still dictated by the monopolist agenda of those who own, have control over, and access to resources to pursue ICT research and development.

As for intellectual property rights (IPR) protection laws, there is, indeed, a need to give due recognition to innovators, inventors, researchers and other intellectuals for their contributions to new ideas, procedures and the like. But this should not allow the multinational firms in actual control of these rights to use them to impede and prevent the open and free access of this new information that may be beneficial to the people. The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) restricts this free access and gives more undeserved profits to entities that have the resource monopoly to do groundbreaking information and communications technology research.

IPR protection is governed by the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights and the WSIS adheres to the WTO’s regulatory framework. Furthermore, WSIS recommends the development of Internet connectivity through Official Development Assistance (ODA), foreign direct investments and public-private big business ventures. This does not augur well for the poor and developing countries, given the exploitative and oppressive terms that they have suffered with regards to the conditionalities of ODA and such other foreign debt protocols.

In short, the WSIS is being used to facilitate and reinforce the WTO’s onerous agreements that allow the unhindered market expansion of advanced capitalist countries to the third world where ICT-related industry is almost non-existent. And given that the main source of ICT equipment, software and services are from the richest countries, the poor underdeveloped countries are made the dumping ground of the consumerist technology surplus that may be inappropriate to the real time needs of the countries concerned. Instead of having the opportunity to use ICT to help poor countries develop, ICT has become another “chain” that binds them to the control of the imperialist countries.

Any attempt, therefore, to make ICT fully accessible and beneficial to the majority of peoples of the world, should first and foremost address the imperialist plunder, the widespread poverty and uneven economic development of the different countries. To do so, it must not turn a blind eye on the monopoly control of ICT of only a few corporations from the imperialist countries; on the fact that accessibility to ICT is very much related to the political and economic system of each particular country; on the unequal and exploitative and oppressive economic and political relations of the rich and poor countries; and on the reality that the WTO — with the US and other monopolists in full control — and its agreements are mere instruments of monopoly capitalists that further impoverish billions of people in the majority of countries in the world.

The WSIS Tunis summit is bound to be used by the monopolists to further perpetuate their control over ICT. It is very much within the framework of keeping the US hegemony over ICT and harmonizing the relations of the monopoly firms in various imperialist countries at the expense of the underdeveloped countries. The US and other imperialist powers are motivated by the drive for monopoly profits and the use of ICT to propagate pro-imperialist ideas and block progressive ideas in the name of national security and counter-terrorism.

The WSIS’ “dream” of an Information Society “where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge”, and where ICT can enable “individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life” will just remain as it is: a dream. #

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