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Global net tussle reaches uneasy truce

There at the birth: Internet Governance Forum

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All interested parties have until the end of March to provide a list of the top three subjects for discussion, with their reasons for doing so, at which point the newly formed committee will make its final choices.

The forum will then take place in either late October or November (there is political argument over the dates due to the possible impact of an important meeting of the International Telecommunications Union between November 6 and 24).

The online question

With the programme decided, the most controversial aspect of the forum will be the extent and depth of online collaboration between parties.

There was broad agreement that an Internet Governance Forum should have an online equivalent. However, many governments are hoping to keep the level of collaboration down to mere preparation for the annual meeting, while business, academic and civil society all want internet technology to be used to help build consensus, find and discuss issues, and effectively become the IGF.

Already there have been several offers to build and host online tools - one of the most comprehensive from a collaboration between Harvard and Stanford universities going under the name Geneva Net Dialogue. One of the key staff on the IGF's secretariat, Chengetai Masango, is also very knowledgeable about online collaboration tools.

However, governments are still uncomfortable with online interaction and are keen to limit its influence on the process.

Aside from the arguments and the failure to reach wider agreement, everyone was happy with where the process had got to. There remains a very big problem of money - which governments, business and academia all failing to offer funds despite explicit requests for them to do so.

And while wiser heads have continued to press the idea of making the forum as much about education as problem solving and conflict resolution, there has been very limited discussion about how this might be achieved.

What the players say

Nitin Desai [chairman]: "I think things are moving ahead reasonably well, and I wish we could have done a little bit more on some of these issues, but I'm not too worried."

Milton Mueller [academic, lead voice of the Internet Governance Project]: "I think it went pretty well. But we do believe the forum should integrate online collaboration into the process in a more radical way than people here can even understand."

Markus Kummer [IGF secretariat]: "We achieved quite a bit. The whole process has contributed to better understanding. I hope to bring in developing countries more. The forum can be a clearing house for the internet, thanks to its moral persuasion and credibility."

Peter Hellmonds [business representative]: "We have in these consultations already successfully begun to... forge good working relations with each other."®

Related links

Internet Governance Forum
Geneva Net Dialogue

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