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Internet governance group pushes on without, er, internet organizations

We're going to Davos, baby!

The controversial internet governance group NetMundial has rejected calls to delay the creation of its "coordination council" – and launched without the support of the technical community nor the International Chamber of Commerce.

NetMundial was born out of a meeting in April between the governments of Brazil, Russia, China, India and others, plus ICANN and similar organizations, to discuss the future direction of the internet in the wake of Edward Snowden's NSA surveillance revelations.

Brazil is particularly outraged that Americans are spying on innocent citizens around the world, and wants something done about it – and so here we are.

Yesterday, the three organizers of the NetMundial Initiative announced they had selected 20 council members from a pool of 46 as well as given themselves a seat each. There was a notable gap however with two unfilled places in the 25-member group.

Those two seats have been set aside for the so-called I* organizations and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), but they refused to take part due to concerns over how the initiative has been put together and what its actual role will be.

A recent meeting between the heads of several key internet organizations in Washington DC resulted in a statement that urged the NetMundial Initiative to "go back to the community to ask them on what they need in a platform for internet governance." It also called for a global consultation to devise terms of reference for the initiative.

The three organizers – ICANN, Brazilian internet body and the World Economic Forum (WEF) – said they would undertake that consultation and chose one of the council's self-nominations Wolfgang Kleinwachter to act as an "ambassador" for the group in developing those consultations (he was not put on the council).

As a result of the planned consultation, the organizers set back the first council meeting from 19 January to 31 March, although it is still expected that the initiative will be announced at the WEF's Davos meeting in January – an event that has driven the decision to create the council despite public calls for it to be delayed.

Little support

The launch comes without the support of key organizations in the internet governance world, and in some cases despite their explicit rejection. Even after multiple meetings and documents over what the initiative's role will be, it remains unclear what work it will carry out and why. The organizers have repeatedly referred to the idea of an "online platform" but it has yet to be scoped out or developed.

The official announcement gives little indication either, suggesting the council's role is to drum up support and money for whatever it is they are overseeing. It reads:

The responsibilities of the Inaugural Coordination Council will be limited to facilitating global support for the Initiative, including promoting the distributed Internet governance model, and attracting ideas, individuals, organizations, and funding in order to enable interested parties to take voluntary actions on the platform.

High-profile members of the new council include US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Chinese minister for Cyberspace Affairs Administration Lu Wei and Alibaba CEO Jack Ma.

Those concerned that the initiative has been a top-down effort by ICANN and the World Economic Forum will not be encouraged, however, by the last decision of "transition council" before it dissolved itself.

They decided that the three of them should remain in charge. "The council should agree that the three of us - or any other three - could continue serving in some kind of administrative council committee role," said ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade at the end of the meeting [MP3]. "Let's ask the council's permission that a few of us continues to support the staff on any administrative matters." ®

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