Blog: FOC conference

The 6th annual meeting of the inter-governmental Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) this week has brought together a group of leading stakeholders to discuss the challenges and opportunities around free, open and accessible online channels and platforms for political, social and economic development. Millicom’s Vice President of Corporate Responsibility Milka Pietikainen and Mauricio Arce, Millicom’s Corporate Responsibility Manager, were among those invited to attend.

October 2016: Since 2011, the FOC has been actively promoting expert and policy-oriented debates on how to leverage freedom online in order to enhance the enjoyment of effective citizenship online.

With each year passing, these debates have risen to new challenges.

Tension has increased in democratic societies between openness, data protection, privacy, security and commercial strategies - in 2016 we saw a substantial increase in Internet shutdowns: whilst in many parts of the world, limited and divided access to the Internet still prevails despite the spread of connectivity.

The FOC’s 30 member states have formed an intergovernmental coalition that is committed to championing and promoting internet freedom worldwide, ready to voice their concerns where measures that restrict people’s internet freedom arise.

Millicom’s voice in this year’s FOC discussions held in Costa Rica is an important one.

In every market where we operate we must work closely with regulators, governments and civil society, as well as with other private sector actors, in order to enhance the enjoyment of effective citizenship online.

© Milka Pietikainen, Child Online Protection Workshop, Costa Rica 2015

It’s a challenging role.

Interaction of companies like ours with law enforcement is key when governments balance their legitimate aims to protecting public safety with their duty to protect free expression and privacy of citizens, and we in turn balance our own responsibility to safeguard customer data and respect of local laws.

Similarly we must speak out on issues such as competition and taxation policies if private sector innovation and investment is to grow and connectivity is to become more and more affordable for all.

Our own business objectives require that we drive digital literacy and local language content through digital ventures and public/private partnerships, and that we actively promote universal access to the Internet.

For this reason, Millicom was the first mobile network operator in Africa to sign all of its operations up to the GSMA’s Connected Women initiative in order to help close the gender gap online. Paraguay has also now come on board. Women are in the majority among those not yet connected around the world – the gap can be as wide as 30 per cent in some countries.

In addition to Millicom’s own participation in four panels throughout this year’s FOC-led discussions on rights and freedoms online, we will also hear from government officials, academics, civil society leaders and private sector representatives.

A Chair´s Summary of three core themes - a free and secure internet, digital development and openness, and privacy and transparency online - will follow shortly to identify action-oriented possibilities and follow-ups.