Internet Governance Forum: Test Of A New Global Governance Model

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By Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch
RIO DE JANEIRO – The debate over whether the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) should grow beyond its no-decisions, dialogue-only capacity was under consideration from the opening of the meeting here Monday.

While a majority of participants from the various stakeholder groups at the meeting agree with the mandate, there are also those who ask for more concrete results and those who want to see a new structure in the management of critical Internet resources.

The IGF arose from the International Telecommunication Union-led World Summit on the Information Society. Representatives from the Brazilian host presented a variety of proposals on how they want to more or less radically reform the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). But the United Nations appears to be less than eager to reopen that debate.

“The United Nations does not have a role in managing the Internet,” underlined UN Undersecretary-General Sha Zhukang in delivering the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to the meeting. “But we do embrace the opportunity to provide, through this forum, a platform that helps to ensure the Internet’s global reach.”

While the forum has no power to make decisions, said Sha, it could inform and inspire those who are in a position to decide on various aspects of Internet governance at the national or international levels. “The forum is modest in its means but not in its aspirations.”

Sha even spoke of the IGF as a new model of international cooperation. “The Internet Governance Forum is not a traditional United Nations meeting. It is a new model of international cooperation,” he said. “You meet here as equals, not to make decisions or to negotiate, but to discuss, exchange information, and share good practices and lessons, if you have any.” Sha made the remark while elaborating on the so-called multi-stakeholder model. The United Kingdom presented, in an early session on best practices, their approach to such a multi-stakeholder discussion – a mini IGF – on the national level.

Even critics from Brazil do not want to go back on the multi-stakeholder model. Roberto Mangabeira-Unger, Brazilian minister of strategic affairs, said: “The mere transfer of ICANN’s power to a universal association of states would not be accepted by those who control the Internet today, and should not be accepted by mankind. The governance alternative must also give power to the world civil society.”

This civil society has to be organised, yet one must start with those more passionate about the issues, he said. While not providing a specific new design for ICANN and its oversight, Mangabeira-Unger said the one-government-oversight ICANN structure was not acceptable any more. This refers to the United States’ oversight agreement with ICANN.

Mangabeira-Unger was joined in that claim by several Brazilian ministers to the unease of some of the UN officials. Sha said at the opening press conference: “My impression is ICANN is working well. Obviously there are different views, some people say yes but some say no.” One concrete proposal on reform of ICANN was made by Carlos Alfonso, board member of the multi-stakeholder Brazilian Internet Steering Committee, who proposed what he called a “Jack-the-Ripper-scenario” following the notion “let’s go part by part.”

ICANN, in his opinion, could be separated into functions: Internet root server operations, oversight over generic top-level domains (TLDs) and country-code TLDs (such as .br for Brazil) could be taken over by a Generic Name Supporting Organisation (GNSO) and ccTLD, respectively. Internet addresses could be taken up by the Number Resource Organisation (NRO), the umbrella body built by the five regional Internet registries (RIRs).

ICANN in the end would remain only as the coordinating organisation for all the processes. Alfonso said: “In this way, less politically sensitive components of the governance, of the logical infrastructure, could come first in this process of change. In the end if this works, the more politically sensitive ones would quite probably become less so.”

Civil society representative Anriette Esterhuysen, chair of the Association for Progressive Communications, warned against letting the ICANN issue dominate the IGF. “There are many other critical issues,” she said during the opening ceremony. Esterhuysen referred to privacy and other freedoms as being conditional to a more secure network, the need for open standards, prioritisation of Internet access and intellectual property regimes that do not strangle creation and innovation.

Freedom of Expression, Network Neutrality

There is much more in the 12-15 November IGF basket. At the meeting of the dynamic coalition on freedom online, people debated the need for some form of principles on freedom of expression on the Internet, said Christian Möller of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

There are workshops dealing with content regulation, the duty of states to protect freedom of expression online and with protecting children online. A set of global public policy principles were also promoted by the Italian government at the opening session Monday morning, where Luigi Vimercati, undersecretary of communication in Italy, promoted the Italian proposal of an Internet Bill of Rights.

“Today we are we are witnessing the birth of a new generation of rights pertaining to global digital citizenship, which represents an extension, with its specific peculiarities, of fundamental human rights,” said Vimercati. Consequently, a bill of rights is needed, along with a jointly agreed definition of these rights, and consistent rules to ensure freedom and access to Internet, together with forms of self-regulation.

Another proposal for a global public policy principle is network neutrality. Japanese Vice Minister for Policy Coordination Kiyoshi Mori named network neutrality as one of three key issues that had to be addressed. With more IP networks and broadband connections, more variety of services is being provided, he said, adding that fair use and equal cost-bearing of the network infrastructure is becoming a serious issue.

Milton Mueller, a founder of the Internet Governance Project, presented network neutrality in a research paper to the Giganet session as a much more broadly defined public policy issue. Network neutrality could be extended to the Internet’s technical coordination functions, proposes Mueller in the paper. He also said that ‘non-discriminatory access’ stemming from the implementation of network neutrality is also central to the concept of free trade in goods and services. Instead of viewing network neutrality as regulating bandwidth and preventing packet prioritisation, it should be seen as a concept against the blocking of communication and content by private actors, or by governments.

The forum has brought together over 1,600 people from around the globe who are discussing issues in nearly 80 workshops, best practice forums and dynamic coalition meetings, in addition to the five large plenary meetings. According to the forum coordinator Markus Kummer of Switzerland, the forum still is short on funding. Of the million Swiss francs calculated by Kummer as a necessary budget for now, only half has dribbled in from some government and some private sector sources like Verizon and Siemens, some ccTLD and gTLD registries and even ICANN.

Monika Ermert may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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Comments

  1. says

    And this has WHAT to do with intellectual property?

    I mean, other than the fact that your NGO activist friends are also interested in the IGF?

    Also, was your reporter at the IGF? I doubt it, based on this story, which does not accurately reflect the majority sentiments expressed at the event.

  2. says

    Well, 1) we believe in the age of convergence that there is link between content and delivery (plus I have reported on ICANN and Internet governance issues closely since 2000, not on anyone’s prompting); 2) anyone with news to break seems to consider us their friend; 3) this story was written from the first morning of the forum, so only reflects early activity; 4) yes, the reporter was in Rio; 5) you did not mention what you feel the majority sentiments were; 6) one might ask why you might have been there if you only follow innovation issues.

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