The IGF has come and gone. It was an "outstanding success".
I had meant to blog some thoughts about the IGF but had more travels before I returned and succumbed to the potent combination of lack of sleep and jetlag. I suppose it’s delayed but better late than never.
The first question to answer is: What is the IGF all about?
I thought we were passed that but it amazes me how the media still continue to misreport what the Internet Governance Forum is about. A sour-grapish editorial in the Bangkok Post, an otherwise respectable Thai paper, illustrates:
UN unsuited to control internet The United Nations has called yet another great meeting, at another luxury site, to discuss its relentless campaign to gain control of the internet. This time, diplomats, UN officials and NGOs are on the expense account in pleasant Athens, where previous “summits” of Geneva and Tunis now have become an IGF. http://www.bangkokpost.com/031106_News/03Nov2006_news26.php
The IGF is a talk shop. It was intended to be a talk shop. It is explicitly designed as a talk shop. The size of the panels with 12 to 14 persons—the largest number of conference panellists I have ever seen in my life—means that no one person can dominate and the tendency will be towards sound-bites. Those who have something to say and can speak to the point, crisply and, ideally, humourously, will get a close listening. Others, wisdom and IQ notwithstanding, will be forgotten.
The IGF has no decision-making powers and no one wants it to have such powers. So the argument that the UN is on a “campaign to gain control of the internet” is, at best, a strawman argument—an argument set up for the sole purpose of easy demolition.
The reason the IGF has no decision-making powers is that all stakeholders fear a deadlock. With decision-making powers, there would be so much fighting that critical decisions would be stuck in bitter political battles. In the nightmare scenario, the internet would be stuck in a time-warp.
So yes, there are the plenary sessions but they are not designed to “solve problems”.
Instead, the IGF Advisory Council, which determined the programme for the meeting, decide that the IGF should look at security, diversity, openness and accesss. These are not even descriptions of problems. They are nice titles for graduate classes on internet governance issues but they are not problems in the sense commonly understood.
Personally, I would have preferred the IGF to at least point to some direction of problem solving. Take an issue like spam. I would have thought that if the IGF wanted a quick success (aka low-hanging fruit in Americanese) it would have tackled spam, which is a significant problem; everyone is united in the fight against it although they might differ on the precise mechanics.
But looking at the crowd that turned up, pointing to problems to solve was probably not necessary.
The Who’s Who working on internet governance issues turned up. If there are problems to be resolved, it will be from some grouping (called “dynamic alliance”) from the Forum, not the Forum itself.
Of course, for the paranoid, it will be the dynamic alliance who will be trying to take over the internet world.
Ang Peng Hwa