Elon University

An interview transcript from the first Internet Governance Forum, Athens, Greece Oct/Nov 2006: Romina Bocache

IGF 2006 LogoThis is a transcript from a series of video interviews designed to assess major issues tied to the diffusion of the internet. It is the record of one of many interviews conducted in 2006 with international internet stakeholders from 18 different nations at the world’s first Internet Governance Forum in Athens, Greece. The Athens IGF was the first of five annual global events administrated by the UN to focus on discussion of the overarching issues tied to the future of information and communications technologies. More than 1,200 participants shared information, experiences and best practices.

Romina Bocache – Researcher on Internet Governance Policy; associated with the DiploFoundation. Studies internet governance and policy for development. Based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

The Transcript:

Q: Where are you from and why are you here at IGF?

A: I am from Argentina and I am studying at the diplomatic academy in Buenos Aires. It’s called ISEN. I’ve been invited to this forum by the DiploFoundation because I’ve attended an online capacity-building course throughout the year and so that’s why I’m here. In January I will be appointed diplomat so I will try to apply all of this knowledge I acquire in my country.

Q: Do you feel the issue of capacity building is being touched on and how would you like to see this issue discussed?

A: I think capacity building is a very important pillar in the Internet governance process because it must have a multiplier or a spillover effect. Beyond the personal impact capacity building must have on each person to take place in these courses, the final aim is to provoke regional and social impact in local communities. That’s the great challenge, and the main point is how to transfer this knowledge from theory to practice. That is where I will try to start working from January. As a diplomat, I will try to implement different programs so as to apply this knowledge and change things in my country or in the world.

Q: Can you describe the programs you would like to see implemented to take the theory to practice?

A: Yes, for example, as diplomat I will have three layers of work. One will be international work, which means negotiating with other countries, creating coalitions especially with developing countries so as to advance our interest. The second one is inside each state. I mean the state is not a realist thought, a unified or realist actor, they are different agencies. And so I would have to interact with different agencies inside the Argentinean state who would have different interests and different approaches to Internet governance. So I will try to somehow influence the policy and decision-making. And the third one, and it’s the first step if I could I would take, is to interact with NGOs and civil society in order to receive their input because they have a really deep insight and knowledge about these aspects and the government must take these inputs into consideration. As a diplomat I should act as a bridge between the global governance and the local, so I have to go from the global to the local and from the local to the global and articulate most fears so I think that could be the challenge.

Q: How do you think NGOs will get governments to take into consideration what they have to say?

A: This is a mutual confidence building first of all. I don’t know, yet, if my government, or governments in general have taken this perspective into account, but first of all there must be a creation of confidence to create a relationship to create no fear of dialogue so as to avoid prejudices or preconceptions.

It is very important to include civil society’s voice in the process. Of course the final decision is in the government who has to take into consideration other aspects, other issues because Internet governance is not an isolated issue, it is related to other issues as well, so having the broad picture you have to make linkages and sometimes you have to make concessions but, well, that is diplomacy. But many NGOs have a real specialization in certain aspects so their input could be very important and in the negotiation process they could add another voice. Perhaps it’s not going to be the final voice but it is very important to include it in the decision-making process.

Q: What is your greatest hope for the future of the Internet?

A: The reality for developed and developing countries is completely different. We can imagine the Internet as having three layers. The first one is the infrastructure, then you have the logical layer and then you have the content layer. In developing countries, the main concern is focused on the infrastructure, I mean access is a big problem. So, in developing countries the first step should be to facilitate the access to Internet to a great majority of the population especially in rural areas because in cities it may be easier but in rural areas it is more difficult.

In developed countries the discussion is another one, for example, there has been a debate on net neutrality in the United States, and this is more related to the second layer – I mean to the logical layer, and if there is going to be some kind of discrimination. But in developing countries we are not yet at that level. We are discussing access before being able to discuss net neutrality although that debate in the United States may have effect all around the world because if they start discriminating the flow of information for different reasons this may affect developing countries as well.

In developing countries access is the first and main concern, so I hope this will be improved in the future. This needs investment but I don’t support a totally free-market approach. The “handoff” solution is not a real solution. A political approach or holistic approach, taking into account legal access, some kind of legislation, is necessary, so the government has to participate in the process both at international and national levels, but it has to be a really focused legislation.

Some kind of guidance or certain frames are necessary because there are vulnerable groups that need protection and that’s why a totally free-market solution will not be appropriate, not only in developing countries but in developed countries as well. That’s why in the United States some actors want Congress to pass a law to defend net neutrality. So it means the market is positive but the state has to be present.

Q: Explain why it is so important that developing countries have the Internet.

A: If they don’t have access they will be marginalized from this global ocean of information that is the Internet. And this, of course, will widen the divide. This is what we call the digital divide; they will have less opportunities in many aspects in commerce, in having the possibility to have access to information; I mean they will be outside the information highway and that is negative and that is why access is the first step towards reducing the digital divide.

Having access has many benefits that developed countries have. But even developed countries and inside developing countries you have national division because you have rural areas, urban areas, you have different social classes, so its not all one genre. In general, we talk about developing countries, and inside them there are many differences, so it’s very difficult to talk in general but, well, I think access is the main concern.

Q: Describe the future impact of the Internet in one word.

A: I fear that there may be some kind of fragmentation of the Internet.

Some may be positive and some may be negative. One form of fragmentation could be the two-tier Internet, I mean if the net neutrality is not respected this could lead to a two-tier Internet which means a certain website could be accessed faster if the content providers pay an extra fee to the Internet service providers. That could be a form of discrimination and fragmentation. The other one is cyber-bankers. I mean the formation of islands of security or gated communities, that is to say that for security reasons people will start to create walls that could create safe islands that will fragment the Internet. Another one is geographic fragmentation; the formation of parallel alternative domain-name systems means that we won’t have only one but different, perhaps in different languages, so this could mean another form of fragmentation.

There could be a positive way of fragmentation or diversity that could be a multilingual Internet. I think this could be great because most of the sites are in English, because again, even if developing countries have access, not everybody knows English and the main content is in English. So it could be great to have multilingual Internet giving people the possibility to access the content in different languages but not only the same content translated into different languages but it would be great to have local content. Realities are different; they have different needs so it would be great to have the proper content addressing different needs. So this would be a good form of, not fragmentation but diversification.

This video transcript is offered for use under a Creative Commons Noncommercial License allowing no derivative works. Executive producers, Erin Barnett and Janna Quitney Anderson; chief engineer, Bryan Baker; videographers, Barnett and Baker; editor, Barnett.