Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/02/20/igf_truce/
Global net tussle reaches uneasy truce
There at the birth: Internet Governance Forum
Governments, business, academia and civil society have reached an uneasy truce at the end of two days of meetings over the creation of a new global body for the internet.
There remain a number of large issues to be agreed but, thanks to some heavy prodding by UN special adviser Nitin Desai, enough agreement was reached for a first report to be sent to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.
Annan was bestowed the task of deciding the form of the new Internet Governance Forum (IGF) by world governments in November, and is expected to make his first recommendations in a fortnight's time.
The IGF will be an annual event and will be rotated geographically: so while the first meeting is in Athens, Greece, the offer by the Brazilian government to host IGF 2007 in Rio de Janeiro is likely to be accepted.
The forum will bring together world experts with representatives from governments, non-governmental organisations and business for a period of three to five days to discuss a small number of important internet-related global topics. At the end of the forum, a report, and possibly recommendations for action will be issued.
The first day is likely to be taken up with outlining the problem and people's varied solutions to it. The second day will comprise separate working groups decided on the basis of the first day's presentations. These working groups will then decide the best course of action in time for the third day, when any resulting disagreements or clashes will be ironed out, and final consensus built.
What to discuss?
There are several vital issues where there remains significant disagreement.
The biggest is over what should actually be discussed at the forum. A large number of governments, and business, wish to see the forum used to discuss problems where there is a chance for international agreement.
This group pushed forward three main topics that would be suitable: spam, cybercrime and multi-lingualism.
A second, smaller group of governments and academics wish to ensure more controversial arguments - namely those over US government control of the internet, plus the role of existing internet bodies such as ICANN and IANA - are heard.
And a third group, built from across all sectors, keep pushing the lost issues of the internet: namely, access in poorer countries, and expanding the knowledge and physical infrastructure in these countries.
The eventual route out of the impasse, largely the creation of Nitin Desai, was to create a "programme committee" made up of representatives from government, private and civil society that would meet and decided the main topics.
People have been given until the end of February to make their proposals, after which Desai and secretariat Markus Kummer will summarise the results and make recommendations to Kofi Annan on how to form the committee.
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."®