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ITU to IGF: Collaboration Among Equals is a "Waste of Time"

Well, that didn’t take long.

Yesterday, I posted my premonition for what might happen at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) here in Hyderabad, India. And we didn’t even get past the opening ceremonies before a high-ranking United Nations official vigorously attacked the very idea of a meeting where governments are on equal footing with industry and nongovernmental groups.

Reprising his bombastic lecture from the meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in Cairo last month, Dr. Hamadoun Touré, secretary general of the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union (ITU), again called the IGF “a waste of time”. He urged IGF to commit to a structure where governments – most likely his very own ITU – have more “muscle”.

At ICANN, Dr. Touré scoffed at the private sector-led, bottom-up management process, even though it achieves consensus a good deal more effectively than the Byzantine ITU organization. Dr. Touré also warned that governments would be getting more involved with Internet governance, whether ICANN liked it or not.

Today, Dr. Touré was in familiar form, complaining that IGF had not met the goals that governments had in mind when they created the IGF. His pessimism was in striking contrast to industry, civil society, and even some enlightened governments who praised the IGF for bringing together Internet stakeholders.

As I said yesterday, I was initially skeptical of the IGF – as just another acronym — but it has grown on me. In accord with its original purpose, the IGF provides a unique space for different stakeholder groups to meet as equals, discuss pressing issues and collaborate on solutions.

But for Dr. Touré and his government fans in the ITU, collaboration among equals is most certainly not their idea of progress. They come from a world where governments dictate and everyone else falls in line. The fact that the private sector pays for and operates the vast majority of Internet infrastructure is of no concern to the ITU. They want to go back to the old ways of doing things, and they have no compunction about dragging the Internet back in time to get there.

What made the ITU call to action baffling was his insistence that IGF move forward with “paragraph 72 of the Tunis agenda.” Paragraph 72 is longish, so I’ll let you read it for yourself, but to suggest that IGF hasn’t moved on those principles is simply ludicrous. The very first thing called for in Paragraph 72a is for IGF toDiscuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development of the Internet.”

If Dr. Touré sticks around for any of the multiple IGF sessions this week, he’d realize that’s exactly what we’re doing.

–Steve DelBianco