World Summit on Information Society (WSIS)

by Anirudh Sridhar last modified Dec 01, 2013 03:12 AM
The United States had the control over internet resources and its administration was controlled by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. This was the principle agency in the US dealing with telecommunication and information policy and the ICANN managed the internet domain names and IP addresses.

ICANN and indirectly the US government having control over the domain name system and the internet registry was an issue of concern for the rest of the world as well international organizations. The proposal for the WSIS by the United Nations was the reaction to such a concern.

Origins of the WSIS

The World Summit on Information Society was first proposed by the International Telecommunication Union in 1998. The main focus of the WSIS was to address issues related to the global digital divide. However, the scope of the WSIS was broadened later to include internet related public policy issues. The UN General Assembly approved the Summit in 2001[1] which was to be held in two phases. The first phase was held in Geneva from December 10-12, 2003 and the second phase was held in Tunis from November 16-18, 2005. The main aim of the Geneva Summit was to lay down a road map to building an information society accessible to everyone. The Tunis Agenda was more on the lines of developing a mechanism or framework which would be effective in dealing with management of the internet public policy issues.

Main Goals of the WSIS

At the beginning the main objective of the WSIS was to discuss issues on building better telecommunication and information infrastructure in the developing nations to bridge the digital divide. The self adopted purpose of the WSIS was, "to harness the potential of knowledge and technology to promote the development goals of the Millennium Declaration."[2] However, during the meetings the focus of the WSIS was broadened and it covered not only issues related information infrastructure but also various issues related to communication and other public policy issues such as freedom of speech, privacy, etc.

Geneva Summit

The Geneva Summit saw overwhelming participation from the government, civil society, industry, international organizations and media. Nearly 11000 participants attended the Summit. The Geneva Summit of WSIS was supposed to mainly focus on principles and the Tunis Summit was envisioned to deal with implementation of principles and follow-up mechanisms.  Though the Geneva Summit failed in reaching a consensus on the issue of the future of internet governance, there were two major outcomes of the Summit; the Geneva Declaration of Principles and Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG).

Geneva Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action

The Plan of Action focused on information and communication infrastructure and recognized it as the essential foundation of the information society. It also emphasized on the importance of access to knowledge, capacity building and building of an enabling environment. It was also cognizant of cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and development of local content.

One of the key features of the Geneva Summits was that it recognized the principles of multi-stakeholderism. The Geneva Declaration of Principles while recognizing the principles of multi-stakeholderism stated,

"Governments, as well as private sector, civil society and the United Nations and other international organizations have an important role and responsibility in the development of the Information Society and, as appropriate, in decision-making processes. Building a people-centered Information Society is a joint effort which requires cooperation and partnership among all stakeholders."

The Geneva Declaration of Principles also laid down principles related to role of ICT in development, access, human rights and international and regional cooperation.


The main functions of the WGIG included:

  • To “develop a working definition of Internet Governance
  • Identify the public policy issues that are relevant to Internet Governance
  • Develop a common understanding of the respective roles and responsibilities of governments, existing international organizations and other forums, as well as the private sector and civil society in both developing and developed countries.”

The final report of the WGIG divided issues related to Internet Governance in four sections:

  • Infrastructure
  • Privacy, security and safety on the internet
  • Intellectual property and international trade
  • Development

Tunis Summit

The Tunis Summit resulted in the agreement on the Tunis Commitment, Tunis Agenda for the Information Society and the birth of the Internet Governance Forum. The Tunis Agenda and Tunis Commitment were the consensus statements at the Tunis Phase of WSIS whereas the Internet Governance Forum was created as a multi-stakeholder platform for policy dialogue on internet related public policy matters.

The Tunis Commitment confirmed the agreement on Declaration of Principles among the stakeholders as well as reaffirmed the Plan of Action.

Tunis Agenda

The Tunis Agenda recognized the need to, "move from principles to action, considering the work already being done in implementing the Geneva Plan of Action and identifying those areas where progress has been made, is being made, or has not taken place."[4]

It also reaffirmed the, "commitments made in Geneva and build on them in Tunis by focusing on financial mechanisms for bridging the digital divide, on internet governance and related issues, as well as on implementation and follow-up of the Geneva and Tunis decisions."[5]

The two other important parts of the Tunis Agenda were sections on:

  • Financial mechanisms for meeting the challenges of ICT for development
    This part of the Tunis Agenda generally focussed financing infrastructure and equipment for providing better access to the internet in the developing areas.
  • Internet Governance
    The section on Internet Governance dealt with management of the internet in a multilateral, transparent and democratic process with full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations.

Article 35[6] of the Tunis Agenda reaffirmed that the management of the internet shall take place in an inclusive and consultative process.

The third and the most important outcome of the Tunis Summit was the creation of the Internet Governance Forum. It was set up under Article 72 of the Tunis Agenda. The next section will deal with the Internet Governance Forum.

[1]. UN General Assembly Resolution 56/183 (December 21, 2001) available at

[2]. See more at

[3]. Château de Bossey, Report of the Working Group on Internet Governance at pp. 3 available at

[4]. Introduction, Tunis Agenda for the Information Society, WSIS-05/TUNIS/DOC/6(Rev. 1)-E, November 18, 2005 available at

[5]. "Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States. They have rights and responsibilities for international Internet-related public policy issues. The private sector has had, and should continue to have, an important role in the development of the Internet, both in the technical and economic fields. Civil society has also played an important role on Internet matters, especially at community level, and should continue to play such a role. Intergovernmental organizations have had, and should continue to have, a facilitating role in the coordination of Internet-related public policy issues. International organizations have also had and should continue to have an important role in the development of Internet-related technical standards and relevant policies."

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