The Liberia Internet Governance Forum

Tuesday 28 September 2010

“Stepping Up Access towards Poverty Reduction and National Development”

Account of the Liberia Internet Governance Forum

Organized by Center for Media Studies & Peace Building

Friday, August 20, 2010 - St. Teresa’s Pastoral Retreat Center, Monrovia

Introduction/Opening Session

The Liberia Internet Governance Forum was convened by the Center for Media Studies & Peace Building in Monrovia since June 2010. This began with an online session that has now grown to 150 members. The face to face forum, held under the theme Stepping up Access towards Poverty Reduction and National Development was linked to the government led Poverty Reduction Strategy as a means of integrating development, was held on August 20, 2010, with 50 persons in attendance.

Mr. Prutus Sackie of the Center for Media Studies & Peace Building (CEMESP) opened the Liberia -IGF with moderation, and recounted the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) processes, including the ongoing online Liberian debates, and the need for a formal session that will increase partnership.

In opening remarks, the Executive Director of CEMESP, Malcolm Joseph, encouraged participants to share their experience in order to increase the capacity of Liberians in the new information age. He noted that the internet is an important factor in today’s world, noting that the conference is meant to build a solidarity that will strengthen internet utility in the country.

K. Abdullai Kamara, Coordinator, IGF-Liberia introduced the forum by recalling the origin of the IGF from the WSIS process, to the various IGFs and the process of the regional forums and the origins of the Liberian IGF. This pointed out issues that were discussed under the Liberian online forum, as well as issues arising from the process. Abdullai further urged participants to strengthen their participation and eventually have a hand in the governance of their internet. His presentation drew parallels to Open Access, Internet Security and the involvement of government in the process.

Reference the interest of Liberian participating on the online session, he noted that people were mostly interested in issues surrounding access, diversity and affordability. This is not to say that other concerns about security, openness and privacy did not come up.

From the government of Liberia, Mr. James Sulonteh representing the Ministry of Posts & Telecommunications reported that the Government of Liberia (GoL) is working to ensure proper governance and utility of internet services in the country. He said this is being done through the planned effort to introduce fiber optic technology that would enhance service and pricing in the country. He noted that all of these are linked to the overall government Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Business Session

In a presentation on Security, Floyd Sayor, Information Technologist at the NEC, reviewed the issue of security in internet use. He noted that simple security measures like logging in on public machines and providing personal information on public sites needed to be carefully taken care of, as they form the basis for major problems on the internet.

Floyd encouraged the public to exercise care and caution in the way they handle their personal information or impression about things/issues. He said there were also issues about abuse, both from ordinary users or techs.

Crispin Tulay from the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment spoke on Internet as a driver of development in Liberia, in which he recalled that Issues like cybercrime, freedom of expression, connectivity, government regulations, open source, privacy, child protection, etc. have confronted users since the internet inception in Liberia in the late 1990s, and noted that discussing them is key to driving development in Liberia amidst acute illiteracy.

Citing the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, he said the Internet is necessary for alleviating poverty, improving access to health care and education, conserving and fairly distributing resources, and strengthening participation in decision-making processes. This, he said, should be measured less in terms of sheer numbers of connected individuals and more in terms of accessibility and contribution to social progress.

On the media, he related the Internet as a resource for journalists in enhancing writing and production styles for radio; and as alternative story source. This is not without disadvantages, as some internet sources can be misleading and not factual; some run the risk of plagiarism without attributing content; Journalists must go beyond internet sources and filter information for local consumption;

He concluded that the Internet is a unique opportunity for government and development organizations to influence the local and international discourse on social, economic and political development at the community level. This will require liberalizing the telecommunications sector to achieve affordability and access; as well as internet trainings in adult literacy and accelerated learning programs, to tackle illiteracy. This will be further accomplished through the adoption of innovative measures such as community-based or public access points in community centers or town halls where community people will be informed on health, education, development, political and other issues.

Group Discussion -Recommendations

Participants reviewed the issues under discussion and to come up with relevant recommendations that could drive the processes forward.

On Internet Security, Openness and Privacy, participants noted that Security can be ensured by developing corporate level intranet that are organized solely within the corporate areas and on related facilities, whereby information are rotated within a closed circuit. The group also encouraged encryption of data, the development of firewalls and the protection of passwords.

On Openness, the group noted that the cost of software are pretty high and that could be addressed by the utility of open source software, which have limited risks. Participants noted the theoretical absence of privacy online, but expressed caution that users ensure that materials that ought to be truly private are not placed on the public sites.

In deliberations on Internet Access, Diversity & Affordability, participants pointed out the challenges of Access in accordance with fewer and over centralization of service providers, and the limited quality of service -lack of broadband connectivity. Access was also discussed within the context of limited capacity in the use of IT facilities and the obsoleteness of infrastructure

Challenges to diversity were pointed out as regards the limited economic features outside of urban areas that would encourage the deployment of ISPs and related facilities. Internet use is generally restricted to government, NGOs and Business organizations, and in urban areas. Participants finally noted that the issue of affordability is generally due to the high cost of IT equipment and the corresponding cost of service, and recommended that government and ISPs consider decentralizing services; reduction of Service costs and providing capacity in IT use nationwide.

Participation

The meeting was attended by 50 participants from various sectors of Liberian society, including Government, ISPs, Civil Society, Students, media, and ordinary users. These were generally reflective of the more than 100 persons who participated in the online session that has existed since June.