When the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 60 years ago, negotiators had no idea that Article 19 would speak directly to Internet governance years later: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and important information and ideas through any media regardless of borders.”
The annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a conference under UN auspices that serves as a neutral space for all stakeholder groups to discuss policies affecting the Internet. The IGF gives stakeholders the chance to understand how to maximize Internet opportunities and address common challenges.
Nearly 3,500 stakeholders from business, government, civil society, the technical community and academia representing 135 countries gathered in Istanbul for the 9th Internet Governance Forum. Barbara Wanner, USCIB’s vice president for ICT policy, attended this year’s IGF along with USCIB members and global business colleagues under the aegis of the International Chamber of Commerce’s BASIS (Business Action to Support the Information Society) initiative.
The global business community supports extending the authorization of the IGF beyond its five year mandate. Business also called for improvements to the IGF aimed at preserving its essential “DNA” as a unique multistakeholder laboratory for thoughtful, useful and non-binding considerations of increasingly complex Internet governance issues. The week culminated with strong endorsements from virtually all stakeholders for the continuation of an IGF that is evolving to address the challenges of an ever-changing Internet.
The business community’s main messages and initiatives are summarized below.
IFG is not NETMundial
The 9th IGF found itself at an important inflexion point coming as it did four months after Brazil’s well-received NETMundial meeting — which produced negotiated, non-binding Internet governance (IG) principles. Some stakeholder groups have urged remaking the IGF in the NETMundial mold, but the business community maintains that the IGF does not lend itself to producing unitary, negotiated outcomes.
While the NETMundial is focused on two objectives, the IGF enables discussion of dozens of different Internet governance issues yielding tens of dozens of different recommendations. ICC-BASIS emphasized that while IGF improvements might include tangible deliverables, such as best practices and more “portable” capacity-building lessons, the IGF was not designed to be a forum for negotiated outcomes.
Letter to the UN General Assembly
Another important initiative that evolved during the week was the development of a multistakeholder letter to the UN Secretary General. The letter advocated an “open-ended mandate” for the IGF, which would facilitate the strengthening of IGF procedures, enable participants to secure long-term funding for projects, and support the IGF Trust Fund.
ICC-BASIS supported the concept of the letter. However, BASIS withheld formally signing on pending further work on language that business believes will offer a more compelling message to the UN Secretariat. The letter ultimately went back to the drawing board to address the concerns of business and other stakeholders.
Financial Support for the IGF
On September 1, the Internet Society (ISOC) announced the launch of the IGF Support Association. This organization will support the continuation of the IGF through increased funding. It will also seek and promote exchange and collaboration with national and regional IGFs, among other initiatives. USCIB Members Cheryl Miller (Verizon) and Virat Bhatia (AT&T) were elected to the Executive Committee.
Bolster Regional and National Internet Governance Forums
Participants largely agreed that an important means of bridging the digital divide and bringing the Internet to “the next 500 billion users,” is fostering more robust Internet governance discussions at both national and regional IGFs. BASIS concurred, urging an “omni-directional dialogue” across national and regional IGFs.
USCIB Members made important contributions to several workshops focusing on topics as diverse as evaluating multistakeholder mechanisms, privacy and trust, ICTs and trade, and the potential of cloud computing for emerging economies.
ICC BASIS also weighed in at other sessions of interest, which addressed issues such as IGF intersessional work, net neutrality, the transition of the stewardship of IANA Internet domain name management functions, and enhancing the institutional accountability of ICANN.
More coverage of the Internet Governance Forum (ICC website)
Staff contact: Barbara Wanner