Internet Governance 3 December 2008

IGF 2008 – Opening Address

By Internet Society President and CEO Lynn St Amour

Mr Chairman, your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be here at the opening of the third Internet Governance Forum. I would like to thank the government of India for being such a gracious host, and the Internet Governance Forum secretariat and the Multistakeholder Advisory Group for their efforts in organizing the program this year.

As the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Internet Society, I would also like to extend our community’s sympathy to all those affected by the recent events in Mumbai – our thoughts are with those who have lost family and loved ones, friends and business colleagues.

Introduction to ISOC

To start, I would like to say a couple of words about the organisation I represent.

The Internet Society is an independent, international, non-profit, cause-based organization established in 1992 by two of the fathers of the Internet – Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn.

We are dedicated to the stability, continuity, and advancement of the Internet – not for its own sake, but rather for the benefits the Internet can bring to all people. We accomplish this by advancing critical Internet technologies and best practices; and by providing technical information, advice, and training programs.

We have long been very active in capacity building activities that have helped many developing countries get online. Of equal importance, we promote national and international policies that support the expansion and evolution of the Internet throughout the world.

We do all these things by partnering with a broad range of stakeholders – civil society, private sector, governments and international organizations.

The Internet Society is also the organizational home for the groups responsible for Internet standards, including the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB).

ISOC is truly global with more than 90 organizational and more than 28,000 individual members with over 80 chapters around the world, including two chapters in India. We are located in Geneva, Switzerland, and Washington, DC, with a distributed workforce in 12 countries including Regional Bureaus in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

We have been deeply involved throughout the World Summit on the Information Society and then in the Internet Governance Forum.

Our support of the IGF has been significant, including funding assistance, and workshop and program development. Perhaps more importantly, the Internet Society has brought experts from diverse backgrounds and geographies with real “on-the-ground experience” to every IGF so that the discussion, the experience sharing and the practical take-aways are all the richer.

Ladies and gentlemen we are now at the midpoint of the IGF

The Internet Governance Forum has convened before on two occasions, and after this meeting it is due to meet two more times. So, as we stand at this mid point, it is worth reflecting on what we have learnt from this experience. By looking back at what we, as a community, have achieved, we can begin to consider our future path.

First, let us remember where this journey began.

Before IGF, there was the World Summit on the Information Society. It was an important series of events culminating in the Tunis meeting that called for the Internet Governance Forum.

Yet WSIS struggled within intergovernmental constraints. At times, accreditation, seating arrangements, and formal submissions took prominence over substantive dialogue. Discussions of important issues often suffered from the lack of inputs from experts and affected stakeholders, who were excluded by official protocols, questions of recognition, and other restrictions.

Fortunately, as WSIS evolved over its 4 year lifespan, it became a learning experience for everyone. Governments began to learn the value of civil society, private sector, and the Internet communities’ contributions – and non-government participants learned how to work in a traditional inter-governmental environment. This became the basis of what we now refer to as multistakeholder engagement.

While WSIS itself was not a multistakeholder forum, one of its most significant outcomes was the multistakeholder IGF. We must recognise this as a very significant step forward from normal UN, and intergovernmental ways of doing things. It is also consistent with the proven way of dealing with Internet issues.

Some question the “accomplishments” of the IGF to date, but perhaps they don’t value the multistakeholder process.

Of course, the path has not always been smooth.

At first, the dialogue in the IGF was awkward. But, relatively quickly, diverse stakeholders learned how to talk together, share experiences, and work together.

This is seen in the nature of the workshops on this week’s agenda, but also in other discussions that go on outside of IGF, such as various national and regional forums addressing Internet matters, and of course, in the lessons that participants carry from the IGF back to their home countries to shape their work and contribute to Internet development. These are the things we value from this multistakeholder forum.

In many ways the IGF is very consistent with the Internet model

At the Internet Society we talk a lot about the Internet model and it is worth spending a moment on it here, because it underpins the incredible success of the Internet’s evolution to date.

In practical terms, what does the Internet model mean?

First, the Internet is a network of tens of thousands of networks, drawing overall resilience from distributed responsibility.

Second, it works because of the collaborative engagement of many organizations. People and organizations from many backgrounds and with different expertise are involved: researchers, business people, civil society, academics, and government officials. This is key to the Internet’s success.

Third, the development of the Internet is based on open standards, which are openly developed and broadly and freely distributed. Participation is based on knowledge, need, and interest, rather than formal membership. There are no membership fees and this in itself is important. The Internet community has always worked to reduce barriers and encourage broad participation.

And finally, the Internet model is also based on widely supported key principles, such as the “end-to-end principle,” which encourages the creation of global deployment of innovative, successful, and often surprising applications. And those who create applications don’t need permission to deploy them on the Internet. And more importantly, users themselves choose which applications suit their needs, hopefully with no intermediate filtering.

In short, the Internet model is a robust, flexible, adaptive system, whose value is greater than the sum of its parts.

So at the mid-point IGF, what can we say about it?

Some criticise the IGF as a talk shop; but I believe this critique completely misses the point.

While initially questioning the need, the Internet Society now values the opportunity created by the IGF. We are encouraged to see the pursuit of issues in a multistakeholder engagement model. And we maintain that these outcomes would not have been possible in any of the traditional intergovernmental models we are aware of.

We recognise that the IGF is a unique forum where ideas can be explored and tested by stakeholders, on an equal footing, unburdened by the constraints of intergovernmental procedures and negotiations.

The IGF does things intergovernmental structures cannot do.

Governments and intergovernmental organisations should also value the IGF as an incredible opportunity – nothing in the IGF either binds governments to implementation in their sovereign territory, nor prevents them from taking the actions they believe are in the interests of their citizens. In fact, participating in IGF enriches their, and their citizens’ decisions.

We should recall the message of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the opening ceremony at the IGF last year in Rio:

“This forum is modest in its means, but not in its aspirations. It may have no power to make decisions, but it can inform and inspire those who are in a position to make them.”

So what next?

How will we measure the IGF’s impact?

We can consider that the IGF has positive impact if its programme contributes to the deployment of the Internet in all parts of the world, and to building communities and capacity.

In the end, the value of the IGF is established by its participants – those of us here, those who follow remotely, and most importantly those who come away from this meeting and say “yes, I can use that back home” – that is what makes the IGF worthwhile.

It is vital that we listen to all the voices at the IGF and beyond. The voices of those on the front line of Internet development tell us of the incredible value that the Internet, and its underlying principles, brings to them, from encouraging communication, to enhancing openness, enabling creativity, and empowering community.

All of us here have a tremendous opportunity to meet, to explore issues and approaches, to share experiences, to learn, and to be motivated.

Let us leave the IGF at the end of this week, enriched by discussions and connections, and return to our respective communities and countries. Let us get back to work – there – developing the Internet, bringing people online, and spreading the benefits of the Internet to all.

Thank you.

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