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Critical Internet Resources not so critical

Silence the Lambs

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Internet Governance Forum If you were to list Internet conferences in terms of boredom, the IGF would come mid- to top-table.

It doesn’t have the razzmatazz or micro-celebrities of Web2.0 conferences but then it also doesn’t suffer the long, drawn-out pondering of intergovernmental talk-fests.

That’s why it’s so important that the Critical Internet Resources main session at the IGF is a hotbed of intrigue and barely disguised fury. Without this session getting the blood going, attendees may not make it through the remaining three days.

But, sadly, at last week's IGF, it was not to be. On a quick straw poll, the session – which is even codenamed so that the word “ICANN” doesn’t appear on big screens and send people into a frenzy – was mostly described as “slightly dull”. How can this be?

The sad answer is: high-level politics. Usually what happens is some government delegate, typically from China or Saudi Arabia will get up and start denouncing the current systems as unaccountable, or tightly controlled by the US government, or some variation of this theme. Often they’ll helpfully misrepresent reality, which then fires up someone else – usually American – to get up and start crowing back. And then, as they say in the States, it’s game on.

But the touchpaper was never lit. Why? Because there’s a bigger game on the horizon: the whole future of the IGF is up for discussion between now and the end of the year at the United Nations, plus the ITU Plenipot next month in Mexico requires all governments to keep their powder dry so they can make deals.

So they said nothing at all. I’m not sure they even turned up to see what others said. One firestarter who was there, ICANN’s CEO Rod Beckstrom, didn’t move from his chair. Moderators Chris Disspain and Jeanette Hoffmann were so surprised at the lack of fight, neither of them even noticed giant insects had settled on their faces.

Making decisions

High-level deal-making is like catnip to government representatives. Which is why, whenever people suggest the IGF become a decision-making body, wise heads always say “don’t do it”. As soon as the forum becomes something where deals are done, you can expect to never see government representatives at a microphone, except when announcing the deal they just struck in private. Sometimes not even then.

The problem is that without some kind of solid outcomes from the IGF, it will be increasingly difficult to keep people interested and for people to get funds to attend. It’s very hard to explain to people that they need to use limited resources to send you halfway across the world in order to have a chat.

So where lies the balance? No one knows – and with people likely to fight over this point right up to the end, a system will probably have to be developed at high-speed and so will be a dog’s breakfast.

Shuttle win

So following my rant about the shuttle buses to and from the venue being a complete rip-off, on the second day it was announced (through posters stuck on windows near the exits) that all shuttles would henceforth be free.

And so the first mini-controversy of IGF 2010 was solved. It’s these sorts of issues that explain the bags under the eyes of the IGF staff on the third day. I’ve no idea whether those that handed over their 75 euros were reimbursed, or where the money is now coming from, but it’s good to see that the IGF maintains its friendly and open approach.

Since the IGF Secretariat is far too diplomatic to talk about sorting the situation out, I think I’m going to claim credit. So if you are in Vilnius and would like to thank me for saving you a chunk of money, I’ll be the bloke in the blue suit getting into a cab at 6pm outside the blue gates.

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