The international community and policymakers need to grasp and better comprehend how digital standards work, why they are important for the digital economy and society, and why standard-setting processes would benefit from a broader diversity of views. Ultimately, given the increasing importance of standards in the digital world, it is of the utmost importance that small, developing countries – and their various stakeholders – are taking an equal part in these discussions.
Through the ARIN Community Grant Program, Diplo US conducted a study on the involvement of actors in the ARIN service region in the standardization processes. The outcome paper ‘International digital standards: A case for the involvement of actors in the ARIN service region’ (in Spanish) aims to raise awareness about digital standards among the small, developing countries in the ARIN service region.
The main finding of this paper is that, while US and Canadian actors are largely involved in the development of international standards, there is very little (if any) participation from other countries in the ARIN service region. To this end, the present paper offers practical recommendations for the more active engagement of these countries in the setting of international standards for digital technologies.
The study was presented at an event on 22 February 2022.
What are digital standards and why are they so important?
Digital standards are broadly defined as rules or guidelines that serve for the development and functioning of technologies, products, and services. They foster interoperability and enable safety and quality of service.
Hence, they play an increasingly important role in shaping the digital world – from protocols that make the internet work across borders and infrastructures to the 3G, 4G, and now 5G standards that underlie the functioning of mobile networks and devices. In the simplest terms, digital standards detail how technologies, products, and services should be developed and, indeed, function properly.
Digital standards are set in organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).
Even though participation in international standards development organizations (SDOs) is generally open to anyone interested, it is usually stakeholders from large and developed countries that predominate in this ecosystem.
The so-called standardization gap – the imbalance in participation in international standardization, in particular between developed and developing countries – is a challenge recognized by SDOs themselves. And this is obvious if we look at how countries in the ARIN service region participate in the development of international standards. While stakeholders from the USA and Canada are highly active in standardization processes, the same is not true about the participation of other countries in the region.
Why do we need more participation from small, developing countries in the development of international standards?
Some might argue that involvement in international standardization is not within their immediate priorities because of the low activity of the digital industry originating in their countries. But digital standards are not only relevant for tech enterprises or only crucial for developed countries. Instead, because digital standards are reflected in products and services used all over the world, it is vital that their development underpins the views, opinions, and interests of the broader global community.
Furthermore, digital standards are not only about technology or economic competition per se; they are extremely relevant to other fields such as public policy, geopolitics, and human rights.
We will discuss these issues in light of the ITU-T WTSA20 outcomes and ways to increase the participation of stakeholders from small and developing countries in an upcoming event Towards a more diverse international standardisation landscape – Motivations and actions for stakeholders in the ARIN region on 15 March 2022 at 15.00 UTC.