IGMENA Event: Tunisian Youth in Digital Society Facing the Challenge of Access and Improving Internet Governance  

 Apri 28, 2016

The Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries (HIVOS) organized an event in partnership with the Internet Society Chapter in Tunisia (ISOC) on April 20, 2016 at the Hotel Novotel Mohammed V on the topic of Youth in Digital Society: Facing the Challenge of Access and Improving Internet Governance.

This unprecedented event brought together Internet governance experts from a variety of stakeholder groups (Ministry of Information Technology and Digital Economy, private sector, academia, civil society, journalists, Internet advocates, policy analysts, legal experts, and the IGMENA community) to discuss the challenges and future prospects for access and infrastructure, Internet Governance, and human rights. The events aimed to map and address current hot topics and issues in Internet Governance, as well as engage the Internet community in a debate about policy choices and best practices.

In his opening speech, H.E Mr. Noomene Fehri, Minister of Information Technology and Digital Economy, highlighted Tunisian youth representation and participation in international meetings and forums related to Internet Governance. The Minister stressed his wish to see more young people from the Internet Governance community engaged in international organizations and forums like AIGF, IGF, ICANN, ISOC, and IETF, stating that “If ICANN and the multi-stakeholder model of the Internet stop working, the world stops working. This is a serious matter.” Mr. Noomene Fehri Said “We are working on a multi-stakeholder model in Tunisia by searching for startups to create ‘unicorns.’ We are looking forward to something similar to Silicon Valley, which we might call ‘Tunisia Valley’ or the ‘Mediterranean Valley.’” He also described the “Smart Tunisia” project, which promotes Tunisia as a competitive destination for offshoring and publicizes Tunisia’s strengths in this sector.

In introducing the “Tunis 2.0”or “tsunami” model, Mr. Noomene Fehri set out its four pillars: First, everyone should have access to the Internet by 2020. Second, the introduction of 4G in Tunisia should be a comprehensive model. Third, Tunis 2.0 should ensure that all people are connected and benefit from access to national and international content. The use of the Internet should be based on the notion of equal opportunities – rural and urban areas should have equal access to the Internet and benefit from the same advantages. By 2020, the system will be “paperless government,” which will save employees time, automate tasks, make data more accessible, cut costs, empower mobile workers, and provide greater transparency as well as on-demand service for constituents. Fourth, Tunis 2.0 must maintain a free and secure Internet by ensuring freedom of expression and the rule of law.

Mr. Noomene Fehri stressed the urgent need to become a part of the “connected world,” by comparing it with the current situation of the Internet in Tunisia, labeled “the underworld.” He addressed the issue of outdated Internet regulations that are no longer valid for the progression of Internet infrastructure. For this reason, Mr. Noomene Fehri and his Ministry aim to close the digital gap in the coming five years by developing a strategic plan for the digital economy – which represents 2/3 of the current global economy – in order to create more job opportunities for Tunisian youth.

Panel 1: Infrastructure and Internet Access (Moderator, Mr. Skander Sehtel)

Mr. Farouk Kamon, President of CA, SESAME, emphasized the right to Internet access. He focused on the notion of equal opportunities of access between urban and rural areas. The implementation of this strategy would be based on technology for “social good” and for needy people who cannot afford high-cost connectivity. The inclusion of Internet infrastructure in rural areas should be put forward regardless of challenges related to culture, age, regionalism, or poverty. Moreover, Internet access should be set on two bases: the first is organized telecommunication (e.g. the International Telecommunication Union, or ITU), and the second is via Internet volunteering, advocacy groups, academia, and civil society engagement to create open access to the Internet for all. This ecosystem creates a new dynamics of partnership that is enshrined in youth community spirit and engagement. The Internet community offers this type of multi-stakeholder relationship, which supports the notion of “Internet democracy” as an ultimate objective. “This is the mentality we need in Tunisia. We must work together and create this atmosphere of working and sharing ”Mr. Farouk Kamoun explained.

Mr. Hafedh Yahmadi, the ICT strategist in Business Development, reminded the audience of the objectives of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, which are to eradicate poverty, improve the quality of education, and improve poor infrastructure by connecting the next billion (“connect the unconnected”). He added some statistics showing the penetration rate in Africa, which represents 16% of the world connection. In Tunisia, the total penetration rate is 49%, according to the Readiness Network Index. He echoes the importance of qualified communication (usage of ICT should be transversal), through email collaboration and auto-regulation, which would build new forms of leadership skills. By 2030, engineers have to create jobs, not ask for them. Schools have to be connected, reflecting the modern model of ICT for education. In addition, he mentioned the problem with Internet Protocol Version 6(IPV6), which unfortunately has no concrete strategic national plan for its development and implementation; it lacks hardware support. Mr. Yahmadi stated that despite the 41% connectivity in Tunisia, there is still very low connectivity at schools. The school of tomorrow will promote leadership skills to its students. Mr. Ridha Guellouz answered: “There is a lack of incentive and political willingness to migrate to IPV6.”

Mr. Hichem Besbess, President of the National Authority of Telecommunication (INT), gave an analysis of statistics on the number of end users utilizing 3G keys and ADSL (60% of ADSL subscription are ADSL of 4 Mb/s  ), which mirrors living standards. About 580,000 Tunisians have Facebook accounts, a fact that shows the high number of consumers of social media and brings forward the issue of poor online content. He noted that 77 zones in rural areas need “social”coverage. Universal services must be implemented in Tunisia, including e-libraries, e-health, e-tourism, and online social services.Furthermore, he pointed out the disconnect between the telecom industry and Internet Service providers, as well as the remaining issue of telecom operators’ monopoly and its implications for service quality and service delivery.
Mr. Mohammed Ouerghi, a research professor at the ENSI Institute, cited the explosion of the Internet through the introduction of the “Internet of Things (IPV6),” but the question in this regard is who directs this growth? ICANN and ISOC are gaining more power in controlling Internet services provided at the international scale. Finally, he defined Internet Governance, which not only includes technical aspects but also economic and socio-cultural aspects. This fact necessitates legislation and regulations to be created at the level of infrastructure and put forward to guarantee online Human rights for the end-user.

Different questions and comments were raised by participants, revolving around the problem of governance and an Internet Governance Forum that has no decision-making power. Other community members asked whether there is a national strategy for partnership between the private and public sectors. The answers were focused on the integration of new technologies such as IPV6, which was first successfully applied at ISET Charguia University, to demonstrate the importance of connectivity at universities and attempt to spread this technology to the whole country. Mobile data is evolving; smartphone penetration is increasing with the introduction of 4G. The solution to the low quality of content is to encourage youth to create blogs and websites. However, there is no motivation from the private sector to implement IPV6. This issue would push the government to exert more power to connect Tunisia to the global world. Some suggested changing applications to a peer-to-peer producer model.

Panel 2: Internet Governance and Human Rights (Moderator, Mrs. Aicha Chebbi Jeridi)

Mr. Chawki Gueddes pointed to the Tunisian Constitution’s revolutionary Article 32, which protects the right to access information and communication networks. He added that “a text or a law is not sufficient. Civil society must act to enforce this law.” We must start from our schools and education and invest in “end user education”to explain privacy and data protection issues on social media and how our data are collected, monitored, stored, and sold on foreign clouds. According to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (July 5th, 2012), “Access to the Internet is a fundamental right of all persons and is a condition for their individual and social development.”

Indeed, Mr. Gueddes justified access to the Internet as a right based on the international community’s agreement. He added that the Internet is a tool for communication that consolidates human rights such as freedom of expression, liberty of opinion, and so on. Speaking about the institutions defending access to the Internet, the European Court of Human Rights opposed Turkey’s Internet censorship law in 2007.Access to the Internet should be ensured everywhere in the world. In Tunisia, Article 31 of the Constitution states that “Freedom of opinion, thought, expression, information, and publication shall be guaranteed. These freedoms shall not be subject to prior censorship.” He stressed the power of civil society and youth to protect this law and ensure it is implemented.
Mrs. Salwa Ghazouani, Director of the organization Article 19, supported this idea by saying, “Each from his or her own perspective and background can take part in Internet governance. It is not necessarily technical.” Mrs. Ghazouani expressed that everyone is an expert and that youth should question the pillars of connectivity stated by the Minister and what achievements may engender this national strategy. She also mentioned the importance of the press in defending freedom of expression, referring to the efforts of the International NGO “Reporters without Borders” to fight for freedom of press and expression. Last but not least, Mrs. Ghazouani noted that freedom of expression is a right that reflects the well-being of citizens.

Mrs. Saloua Ghazouani also highlighted the importance of Article 32 of the new Tunisian Constitution, which guarantees the role of different stakeholders in Internet governance.Article 32 stipulates that “The state guarantees the right to information and the right to network communication,” and the Alliance for Article 32 reflects the commitment of civil society, academia, and the public and private sectors to strengthen civil society’s joint actions and build consensus to guarantee the preservation of Article 32 in the Tunisian Constitution. In other words, Internet Governance in Tunisia is based on the principles of multi-stakeholderism.

Mr. Moez Chakchouk, CEO of Tunisian Post, discussed how Tunisia joined the countries’ coalition of free Internet in 2013. He said, “This model should be defended. We shouldn’t make offline laws into online laws. These must be brand new laws.”He stressed the importance of the Internet, through which the youth feel a sense of innovation. He asserted the need to adopt a multi-stakeholder model to fight cyber-terrorism and to engage experts from the technical community to solve this problem. There must be cyber-laws to regulate this process. In this regard, he opposed passing offline laws in the online world. The youth and civil society must understand the eco-system, Mr.Chakchouk stated. That the community present in the event helped him change the perception and the work mission of the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) since the Tunisian Revolution.This change in perception was only possible through teamwork and cooperation between ATI, the multi-stakeholder group, and civil society to promote progress. ATI has always presented its will to put good governance into practice.

Some students, bloggers, and journalists asked the panel how to control terrorism while still protecting privacy and how to instill a new culture of online protection from monitoring and surveillance. Others questioned the problem of youth access to economy and use of electronic cards and international credit cards.Some experts mentioned the funding problems of civil society while others disagreed with this by highlighting the huge flow of money from international organizations to some national NGOs. Responses were mainly concentrated on the importance of inclusion of youth in education (training, supervision, etc.), decentralization of postal services to impoverished rural areas, and the universalization of Internet access grounded in human rights, openness, accessibility, economic development, and multi-stakeholderism.

Finally, IGMENA community wants to thank Mrs. Hanane Boujemi for giving voice to the Internet advocates in Tunisia and Mrs. Wafa Dahmani for her help, interest and valuable support.  
Session report written by Ms. Rabeb Jlidi, IGMENA community member 

Editor : Hamza Ben Mehrez, Policy Analyst Lead (IGMENA)