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3rd Internet Governance Forum: New Venue, Old Arguments

Attending a United Nations-organized Internet meeting is a lot like being in the movie “Groundhog Day.” The scenery changes, but you hear the same old argument: anything as important as the Internet just has to be managed by governments – not by the private sector.

The third annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) got underway today in Hyderabad, India. IGF arose out of the United Nations’ World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to be a global forum where governments, businesses and nongovernmental advocates meet on equal footing to discuss pressing global issues facing the Internet. The IGF is intended to carry on the WSIS goal of achieving “ICT (information and communications technology) for all.”

At the first IGF in Athens, I questioned why we needed yet another international forum on Internet governance, since we already had ICANN, IETF, and multiple bureaucracies at the United Nations. But the IGF has really grown on me, and I’ve seen the value of its unique approach to let stakeholders meet as equals to share information, concerns, and solutions – without the pressure of voting on official positions.

Unfortunately, there has always been a small but vocal group of government participants who are determined to transform the IGF into a global Internet regulator, controlled by governments and indistinguishable from the UN’s International Telecommunications Union. At last year’s meeting in Rio, the Russian government actually called for the UN to take control of critical internet resources. (see my blog)

I came a day early and caught the World Information and Technology Services Alliance (WITSA) meeting here. Markus Kummer, the Executive Coordinator of the IGF briefed WITSA on the history and future of the IGF.

Kummer is committed to preserving the original intent of the IGF as a gathering point for Internet stakeholders. He reiterated IGF founding documents purposely give the organization no procedural rules or powers to negotiate agreements. From the outset, this was to be a new type of entity, one based on collaboration and interaction, not top-down governmental control.

Kummer also confirmed that there are continued efforts to amend the original purpose and structure of the IGF.

I’m hopeful this IGF will provide us with opportunities to address the real obstacles to reaching the next billion Internet users – faster and easier than we reached the first billion. But I’m concerned that when the governments make it to the microphones, it’ll be more of the same.

Steve DelBianco