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The sound and the fury and the kettle

Noisy, expensive and weird

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Internet Governance Forum Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania. And Lithuania is north-east of Poland and underneath Finland.

In an exhibition center on the outskirts of Vilnius, over the Neris river from the big, beautiful Vingis park, are currently the 1,000 or so people in this world who spend their lives obsessing about internet governance. I’m one of them.

This is the fifth annual Internet Governance Forum – IGF – and the last under its current mandate agreed by the United Nations. The forum is going to be extended for at least another five years but we’ll all be pretending we don’t know that until the last day when the “taking stock” session takes place.

Here are some things you need to know about the IGF:

  1. It’s very open. If you can get here, it’s free. If you really want to get on a panel, you’ll find someone that will let you. You don’t need to be particularly interesting or concise.
  2. An enormous amount of information about how the internet is run and perceived right across the world is readily available. If this is the sort of thing that interests you, you’ll be very happy.
  3. There’s too much information and too many people on too many panels.

Milking the IGF cow

Lithuania is not a rich country. That much is obvious when you drive through it - even more so when you walk around the local neighbourhoods. If you’ve ever been to a post-communist European country, you’ll know exactly where I’m coming from.

But in that way that poor countries with rich neighbours have, the locals on the periphery of the IGF meeting clearly felt certain that they could massively over-charge and no one would notice.

To get to “LitExpo” you really need to get a bus or a cab – it’s too far to walk. And so the hosts have – as they always do – put on a shuttle service. The only downside is that have decided that the price for the week should be 75 euros, which is a huge sum – around 260 litas – in the local money.

Depending on the cab driver (and it really does depend on the driver himself), a ride to the centre costs between 10 and 50 litas. So even if you were unlucky, you would find that getting a cab every day still works out cheaper than the mass coach transit on offer. Oh, and the shuttle coaches run only twice a day from your hotel – once very early in the morning and once after everything is over.

Of course, people being what they are, the majority has paid this stupid price.

And the second rip-off (so far) – 36 litas for lunch. They have you confined in the exhibition centre (and there is not so much as a sandwich cart within a 20-minute walk), so let’s get everyone to pay $13.50 for a bog-standard lunch. This is just an annoying con for people like me, but for those from developing countries, it is cripplingly expensive.

I predict some very angry exchanges in the next week.

What? Eh? What you say?

While I’m having a moan – the acoustics are terrible in most of the meeting rooms. This is because LitExpo is an exhibition hall. So in creating the separate rooms, they have just put up tall exhibition walls – you know, one-inch thick cloth-covered walls. And no ceilings.

So for about half of the meeting rooms you can hear – very loudly – what everyone else in the other room over the hall is talking about (albeit slightly garbled). So, of course, the people in your room either talk more loudly or turn up the PA system.

So the other rooms do the same. And before you know it, we’re all yelling at one other trying to be heard. This is not conducive to reasoned discussion. In fact, I think it can be safely summarized as infuriating.

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