Following on from the first United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF), held in Athens in October 2006, the second IGF took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 12-15 November 2007. The week long event brought together more than 2,000 representatives from business, civil society, national governments and the technical community to discuss issues around the management and governance of the Internet.
Initiated in 2005 as an outcome of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the IGF is the first ever forum to bring together such diverse stakeholders at this global level of public policy discussion. Although instigated by an international government agency, this forum does not employ the usual bureaucratic structure common to governmental affairs. Instead the IGF is designed to encourage multi-stakeholder participation by granting governments, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), the technical community and the business sector an equal status. The aim is to encourage honest and open discussion of Internet-related issues without the pressure of producing recommendations or calls for action.
The first IGF, held in Athens in 2006, attracted more than 1,200 participants and focused on the overarching issues tied to the future of information and communications technologies. This included control over Internet architecture, the Internet numbering and naming system, security, intellectual property, openness, connectivity, cost and multilingualism. The second IGF meeting built on most of these themes and included new ones such as the management of Critical Internet Resources, access and diversity.
The RIPE NCC has actively participated in the WSIS process since its inception in 2003 and continues, along with its fellow Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) as part of the Number Resource Organization, to contribute to each IGF meeting. The 2007 event was especially important to the RIRs, with the addition of the extra theme of Critical Internet Resources to the agenda. Although it has not been specifically defined, Critical Internet Resources are generally accepted as including elements of the Internet infrastructure such as IP addresses and domain names. The increasing interest from government agencies on the internal processes of the organisations that manage these Critical Internet Resources has led to the further development of the working relationships between governments and the technical Internet community.
"As we are responsible for Internet number resources, including IPv4 and IPv6 address space and Autonomous System numbers, it is very important that the RIRs contribute to the discussions around what is effective Internet Governance," explained Axel Pawlik, Managing Director, RIPE NCC. "We want to ensure that our members continue to operate and grow their businesses in the self-regulated environment that has proved so crucial to the success of the Internet. Our goal is to protect the way our community functions, but at the same time to support governments and provide them with all the information they need to make informed decisions about the Internet. Using high-profile forums, such as the IGF, is a perfect way to educate national governments on how IP address distribution occurs."
The IGF has come under some criticism for its non-binding approach and its susceptibility to political grandstanding. However, it is also acknowledged that the meetings have allowed important technical issues such as IPv4 allocation and IPv6 deployment to gain international visibility and consideration by business and governments alike. One of the outcomes of the WSIS process was the recognition that the continued growth and long-term sustainability of the Internet requires coordination between many players with differing needs. The IGF is just the beginning of this process and its supporters remain committed to its ability to bring people together to share knowledge and experiences and to build productive relationships between the public and private sectors.
The third IGF meeting will take place in Hyderabad, India, from 3-6 December 2008.
Conceived as a series of five meetings to carry forward some aspects of the discussion started at the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), the Internet Government Forum (IGF) takes its mandate directly from the UN Secretary General.
The first IGF was held in Athens in October 2006 and was hailed as a success. A late surge in registrations, with 400 government delegates from 97 member states within the total of 1350, resulted in the venue being considerably over subscribed. Extra passes were needed to attend the plenary sessions on the first day, but every organisation that wanted to have a workshop was accommodated, despite that meaning attendees often needed to choose between four sessions taking place at once.
Several members of the 40-strong Advisory Group were on hand to assist in the organisation of the sessions, with universal praise for the work of the translators and simultaneous transcription team. Connectivity and remote participation was sometimes patchy, but the online record of the event is a very useful resource.
Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the Athens meeting was the genuine openness, where anyone with a view to express was welcome. In an effort to be seen to be multi-stakeholder, there were probably too many people on the panels, which were a feature of both the plenary and workshop sessions. By the time the panel had all introduced themselves and the moderator had collected a few, often lengthy, questions, it was almost time to wrap up.
The IGF in Athens did not have a mandate to produce or negotiate a deliverable. Many people regarded that as an important strength, especially for governmental attendees. It avoided an unnecessary degree of formality, and the need to stick rigidly to a pre-prepared brief. One important consequence that did arise from the meeting, however, was the concept of Dynamic Coalitions. These are not quite working groups, but newly formed associations with some common purpose.
It is expected that the Dynamic Coalitions, which will be working independently of the United Nations framework underpinning the main IGF, will be given an opportunity to report back in November 2007, on topics such as: Privacy, Spam, Open Standards, Bill of Rights, Access and Connectivity, and Access to Knowledge. There is also a Dynamic Coalition looking at the remote participation, or Online Collaboration, process itself.