Elon University

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

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.

Norbert Bollow – President of Swiss Internet User Group. Active in the study of the revision of Swiss copyright law. Led a pre-IGF workshop on African Digital Opportunity Visions. Based in Gruet, Switzerland.

The Transcript:

Q: Who are you with and why did they send you to IGF? 

A: I’m the president of the Swiss Internet User Group, which is a small Swiss NGO and I am here because I want to be here and they say OK, if he wants to go, it’s all right. So, one of my reasons for wanting to be here is that I actually want to work with the Internet, I care for the Net and I also do some research related to the spam issue, so this is a very good place to talk with people and get better connected to the people who also work in this area.

Q: What have you learned so far from the various workshops you have attended?

A: I think the most impressive experience was actually not a workshop, but the setting the scene session, which was perhaps a gigantic workshop and I found that actually productive, so I was so impressed that something actually productive happened. I had not expected that.

Q: What happened during the session? 

A: Well, some understanding was created, some actual conversation with listening and building upon what others had said. It’s not the normal kind of thing you see at conferences. Normally you get a lot of people who just want people to listen to what they say and afterwards, in the corridors you can get some real discussions and perhaps get something moving in a good direction.

Q: What different things were discussed at the workshops?

A: With the setting the scenes, it was primarily about this multi-stakeholder dialogue, how we can go forward. One big idea that was discussed is the elephant analogy. Suppose you have three blind men, each touching different parts of an elephant, one touches the trunk and the side – he will say the elephant is like a wall. The other guy who touches the tail is the elephant is like a rope. And of course, they are all wrong. And maybe this is how we are in relation to the Internet. We each see such a small part of this very complex reality and the only way of getting a more balanced view is to really engage with other stakeholders who have quite different perspectives, thereby seeking to obtain a more rounded picture of the thing.

Q: Will the IGF experience and progress made in sharing ideas carry over, or will people go back to addressing only their own concerns?

A: I can’t really speak about the others, but I came here wanting to do something and I will go away without having lost my desire to do something, but now having perhaps a more rounded perspective and understanding how other people think, that when I will communicate my ideas, I will have a better chance of being actually understood.

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

A: That it stays useful.

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

A: I think my greatest fear is that some monopolistic company, say Microsoft, creates a tool that is what we call a DRM system – digital restrictions management – they call it “digital rights management.” Hollywood would be happy so that people can only copy films, some music as the entertainment industry allows them, but the way to make that work is to really restrict what a computer can do. And then you can no longer just decide with some friends or people who think similarly to you this is how we want information and communication technology to work and implement that and use the technology that you create and implement the kind of processes that you like. So I think that would kill much of the potential of this whole technology.

Q: Do you think there is a way to go toward standardization in order to ensure equitable access and still maintain openness? 

A: I don’t know, and I think the big question about equitable access is the economics of it. Some companies must have a business interest to provide it and the customers must actually be able to pay for it. So that’s a big issue – how are they going to pay for that much needed under seas cable around the east coast of Africa. Who’s going to pay for it? And why?

Q: Do you think that any one of the three sectors here has the responsibility to pay for that or do the countries themselves need to figure that out?

A: I feel every human being has a responsibility to have a heart that cares for our neighbor and in today’s world, that includes people in Africa who are in an economic situation where you really need a good communication technology to have any chance of creating sustainable business, so I think it’s every human being’s responsibility. And of course, it’s good if businesses can be made to share in that responsibility, but even if they cannot in some business structures, they are just so focused on shareholder value based on how the whole business is structured so that really a business cannot be philanthropic. Then you have people who own those businesses who, when they are rich one day, they spend some of the money on good things, which is, I think, a bit of a waste. It would be more useful to have the business structured in a way that it’s not just about money, but how to do that is also a question.

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

A: Crazy.

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.