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The blueprint for the world's first Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to be held at the end of October in Athens has been thrashed out.

The IGF's advisory group of governments, business, and civil society agreed at the end of last week to hold four main three hour sessions covering the broad subjects of openness, security, diversity, and access.

Each session will consist of a panel of specialists and a moderator, with frequent questions taken from the floor and blog posts read out to the room. Translators will provide everything in English, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, and Russian.

Swiss diplomat Markus Kummer, the man in charge of organising the event, said the idea is to make the four day event "as interactive as possible". Between the main sessions a number of workshops will be held covering areas in which the internet is having a big impact, and a plaza will feature traditional conference stalls.

The forum is a United Nations experiment and was devised in November last year at a World Summit when countries were unable to agree on who should run the internet and how. The result was a non-decision-making body that recognises civil society and business as equal partners alongside government.

While critics have dismissed it as no more than a talking shop, the hope of IGF organisers is to provide a venue in which different countries and sectors of society can learn from one another's experiences.

Seven hundred people have already signed up to attend the event and organisers expect at least 100 more to do so within the next month. The main concern, however, is how to attract the sort of internet notables and pioneers that will bring wider attention to what is discussed at the IGF.

Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, co-creators of internet protocols TCP/IP, have both been invited, but it is not yet known who else is on the guest list.

One problem is that because the forum is not part of the regular UN budget, because it is the first time the forum has been held (it is due to run for five years before being reviewed by the UN Secretary-General), and because it does not have the power to make binding decisions, there has been less funding than for normal UN meetings so the IGF is unable to pick up the travel costs of attendees.

The hope is that by using the internet's own tools, including webcasts, digital recordings, and collaborative tools including blogs, the wider net community will not miss out on any of the events.

For more information on the Internet Governance Forum, details, including pre-registration and reduced rates on hotels in Athens during the course of the conference, you can visit the IGF official website at www.intgovforum.org or the Greek IGF site at www.igfgreece2006.gr. ®

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