The Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) was held on 16-19 July 2019 at the recently constructed Far Eastern Federal University on Russky Island in Vladivostok, Russia. The theme of this year’s event was “Enabling a Safe, Secure and Universal Internet for All in Asia Pacific,” with 22 sessions covering six sub-themes: safer Internet, cybersecurity and regulation; access and universality; emerging technologies and society; human rights online; the evolving role of Internet governance (IG) and multistakeholder participation; and digital economy.
The Board of the Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society (PICISOC) was represented by Anju Mangal from Fiji, James Ahwai from Samoa, and myself from the Cook Islands. James Ahwai, a newcomer to the IG scene, participated as a panellist in the opening plenary on The State of Play and Outlook for IG in the Asia Pacific and contributed a Pacific perspective. Anju Mangal, a former member of the IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group, moderated the closing plenary on APrIGF Multistakeholder Participation in the Global IGF.
I led a workshop, which was a follow-up to a session on “e-Government for Empowering Pacific Citizens,” introduced at the APrIGF in Vanuatu last year. This year, PICISOC Board member, Cherie Lagakali, a participant in the 2018 event and this time attending remotely, provided an excellent overview of Fiji’s new e-government website that has been developed with support from the Singaporean government. At the workshop, Anju Mangal also reported on the e-Government Roundtable “The Future of Digital Government for Sustainable Development,” which she attended in the Republic of Korea in June with Fellow PICISOC Board member Andrew Molivurae. PICISOC and participants of the workshop discussed and articulated the needs of the Pacific and the many challenges that governments of small island developing states face. They include challenges with connectivity and bandwidth, affordability of broadband, inadequate legal and regulatory frameworks, shortage of requisite human capacity, failure to use local language and content, and lack of entrepreneurship and a business culture that is open to change. With these issues to contend with, small island states in the Pacific have not been able to reap the benefits of digital development.
I also participated as a panelist in the plenary session on Digital Accessibility, moderated by Rajnesh D. Singh. For me, one key takeaway from this session was the role of governments and the budget priority they should give to accessibility issues, including universal acceptance. There needs to be more across-the-board awareness and education about accessibility issues, for building codes, as well as online, and governments have an important facilitating and catalyzing role in implementing accessibility requirements. This is more so in developing countries where national budgets are usually assigned to other priorities. In the Pacific, for example, the cost of technology development is a major inhibiting factor.PICISOC will produce a report on the sessions, that members participated in, to the Dynamic Coalition on Small Island States in the Internet Economy as input to the global Internet Governance Forum that will be held in November 2019.
One of the unique features of the APrIGF is a Synthesis Document that is produced by a drafting committee of volunteers. Each day at the event, a Town Hall session was held where participants offered important takeaways from sessions they participated in during the day. These contributions were collated into a document under the six sub-themes of the forum, which becomes a summary of the hot topics, views, and perspectives from this event. When participants attend other similar events, they can reference the document as the views of those who attended this year’s APrIGF event.
Contributing to the success of this event were the great communications teams who were on hand in each of the session rooms. The state-of-the-art equipment at the university ensured quality sessions with clear inputs by every participant (both remotely and in the room). Real-time transcription as well as multiple screens were available – the sort of thing we can only wish for in the Pacific. But it certainly raised the benchmark and ensured that we had a great event. Many thanks to Mikhail, Leonid, and the Russian APrIGF Team for a great event and a great gala as well.
Next year’s APrIGF will be held in Nepal.