Over 2,000 participants from more than 100 countries descended on Nairobi for the 2011 United Nations Internet Governance Forum, to engage in discussions and knowledge sharing. The increasing attendance at the IGF meetings demonstrate that the Forum continues to be useful and of value to attendees. One of the fundamental characteristics of the IGF is that it is an open, non-binding, multi-stakeholder and bottom up forum. The Forum is unique due to its non-decision making format and its open and inclusive participatory structure, which continuously grows. This format is the fundamental basis of the Forum’s success, and this unique character of the IGF should be maintained.
The ‘no central authority’ and ‘self regulated’ approach in the Internet’s management has always been a key to its success and growth. This has allowed the Internet to become among many things, a vital tool and catalyst for exercising human rights and empowering citizens around the globe. In light of the Arab Spring developments, supporting the openness of the Internet management structure, among many things, empowers the democratisation of societies. Thus support for IGF in its current form is vital.
What is the value of the IGF and why is it relevant?
The old argument that various stakeholders; governments, the private sector, the civil society and NGOs, and the technical and academic communities provide resources, knowledge sharing and innovation under one roof, is still relevant today. However as technology continues to evolve, so do the discussions at all levels. The unique aspect of this Forum is its all encompassing discussions of Internet governance and Internet public policy- related topics, addressing the opportunities and challenges created by the rapid development of the Internet.
Further, the more developed argument addresses one of the most deep routed issues associated with the IGF – ‘IGF formal outcomes’. in the closing session,Dr Vincent Cerf raised his concern; “I am a little uncomfortable with any attempt to produce a consensus document, not because they are bad, but the time it takes away from rich exploration of issues.” Dr Cerf is right. Not only does negotiated text hinder the success of the current format but more importantly, whilst the current system makes it difficult to coordinate legislation targets Spam (for example), it plays a more important role in stopping rogue states from having any say in what and how the data on Internet flows. This in its self is a HUGE success, and needs applauding.
The current decentralised governance system of the Internet means many stakeholders are involved, with each party playing a specific role. This enables the Internet’s data flow without fear of sovereignty and borders, and more importantly guaranteeing a diversity of views (from both elected and unelected governments).
It is important to highlight that the IGF in its current format has the ability for self-improvement through its own bottom-up mechanisms, with each annual meeting building on the achievements from previous meetings. This self-improvement mechanism has continued in an era of dwindling and limited financial and human resources to the IGF secretariat. This year the Secretariat must be congratulated for managing with only one full-time member staff (Mr Chengetai Masango) and a handful of valuable interns. Whilst this highlights the power harnessed by the bottom-up approach, it also rings alarm bells for future support.
Support for the secretariat is not only required in the form of finance, but also in the form of broadening the base of attendance. This can only be achieved if various stakeholders in their respective countries, outline the importance of the IGF through their networks. Without the IGF, a world with the Internet managed by an international body of bureaucracy is highly likely, and all parties who are currently benefiting from the Internet will wish they had pledged their supporting for the IGF sooner.